Oprah's next mission: Win advertisers with OWN vision

Thu Apr 5, 2012 10:01am EDT
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By Lisa Richwine and Ronald Grover

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Oprah Winfrey appears in New York on Thursday before her most important audience: potential advertisers who will decide how many more seasons her struggling cable network has to promote her mantra to "live your best life."

The "queen of talk," having admitted in a CBS interview this week to "101 mistakes" in launching the Oprah Winfrey Network last year, must convince the media buyers who will crowd Lincoln Center that her formula of uplifting programs will attract more viewers than it did in its first year.

So far, her mix of interviews and feel-good programs has left the key audience of 25- to 54-year-old women less than thrilled. Ratings among them for the 15-month-old OWN are about what they were for the Discovery Health channel it replaced.

Last month, OWN, a joint venture with Discovery Communications, laid off 30 staff and canceled its heavily hyped Rosie O'Donnell talk show that it had hoped would provide a ratings boost.

OWN's stumbles have struck the network to its operational core. The aspirational message that fueled Winfrey's hugely successful syndicated daytime talk show for 25 years is not translating to a mass audience for the 24-hour cable channel.

"On cable, the networks that work are far from aspirational," Brad Adgate, an analyst at advertising agency Horizon Media said, pointing to shows such as "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" or the "Real Housewives" series.

"It has been difficult for aspirational shows (and) networks to get on track," he said.

OWN did see a recent ratings boost as Winfrey added more air time. At the end of March, the network reported a 21 percent ratings increase for the first quarter compared with last year, with an average of 180,000 daily viewers.   Continued...

Oprah Winfrey, Chairman, CEO, and Chief Creative Officer of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, speaks during the OWN session at the 2011 Summer Television Critics Association Cable Press Tour in Beverly Hills, California July 29, 2011. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni