Oprah’s New Cable Channel is Struggling

Not everything Oprah touches turns to gold.

By Jorge Rivas Mar 02, 2011

Oprah Winfrey’s two-month old cable network, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), is struggling to attract viewers. The New York Times is reporting OWN is drawing fewer viewers than the obscure channel it replaced, Discovery Health.

The network is averaging about 135,000 people watching at any given time, roughly about 10 percent less viewers than what Discovery Health was attracting at the same time last year.

"We’re building, night by night by night. What everyone told me about the cable business is the way you do cable is you start with a couple of shows, people are used to repeats," Oprah told The Hollywood Reporter. "Oprah viewers were not!"

Oprah and Discovery Communications have been telling critics and investors to be patient — it’s only been two months and Oprah isn’t devoting her entire schedule to OWN until September, when her long-running talk show comes to an end. Until then, OWN is producing original shows like Lisa Ling’s "Our America," which last week became the first show to be renewed by the channel.

So far the network does have one breakout star: Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes. The show gives viewers a glimpse of what it takes to put on an episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show and includes what comes across as intimate conversations with her producers. Colorlines.com recently featured a behind the scenes clip of Oprah learning from a young staff member that people don’t become "gayer."


In another episode she talked about the country’s response to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. "Let me just tell ya’, if that flood had been in Bel Air, there would have been something done. Believe me, something would have been done," Oprah told her producers in a staff meeting for a show featuring George W. Bush.

Oprah is taking all the credit for Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes. The show "was my idea," Oprah told the Hollywood Reporter. "Originally there was some talk about doing it as a documentary film. I shot that down, because I thought my viewers don’t want to now go pay to see a film about me. [I said], ‘What would make it really interesting is to put it in your living rooms, where I’ve been all these years.’"

OWN’s chief executive Christina Norman told the New York Times that her goal this year is to double Discovery Health’s ratings and accumulate 50 million to 60 million viewers each month. In January, they had 42 million viewers.