If she wrote a book about OWN, Oprah Winfrey said on CBS This Morning yesterday, she could call it 101 Mistakes.
Oprah's No. 1 error? Launching her cable TV network "when we really weren't ready to launch," she confessed to best friend Gayle King and her co-host, Charlie Rose.
About her 15-month-old joint venture with Discovery Communications (DISCA), Oprah added: "Had I known it was this difficult, I might have done something else."
With the former daytime TV queen now averaging fewer than 300,000 viewers in primetime, might she pull the plug on her cable network and go back to broadcast? Indeed, Oprah could call her old friend Bob Iger, the Walt Disney (DIS) CEO who oversees ABC, and say: "Bob, just give me back my big, beloved broadcast TV audience." She'd have a hit on the air in an instant.
But don't bet on Oprah quitting OWN—at least, not for a while. Last evening at Radio City Music Hall, she ended her day as dramatically as she started it: on stage with fellow evangelist Tony Robbins, preaching about "Living Fearlessly." This was a two-hour Lifeclass program that aired live on OWN. "Self-empowerment and fulfillment," she told the audience, "is the real and only reason I did a network." During a commercial break, she joked, "Building a network, I get to face my fears everyday."
The Radio City crowd (including me) left the theater, if not personally emboldened, believing that Oprah will soldier on in her entrepreneurial struggle. "You are what you believe," she told us, adding, "I'm God's child. That means I can do anything."
Meanwhile, Discovery is emboldened by a bit of good news: OWN has started to collect subscription fees from cable operators like Comcast (CMCSA), which initially carried the network for free. Discovery put up all the money for OWN—$312 million so far—in exchange for the Oprah brand, her library and her presence. Discovery pays Oprah, who took charge as CEO of OWN last summer, no salary. But to earn a profit on the venture, Discovery must increase sub fees and satisfy advertisers like Procter & Gamble (PG) and General Motors (GM), which had big expectations for the network.
And though some have speculated that Discovery CEO David Zaslav may cut his losses, he's more likely to exercise patience. Famously restless but fiercely competitive, he is too personally vested in OWN to walk. He came up with the idea for the network and sold it to Oprah, who had dreamed years before about having a venture called OWN. (See "Oprah's Next Act.")
So far, OWN's troubles don't seem to be hurting Discovery. The company, with $4.2 billion in 2011 revenues, has been one of the hottest stocks in the media universe. The shares, which are trading at an all-time high of $51.18, helped lift Zaslav's 2011 compensation, including vested options, to $52.4 million. Zaslav declined to comment for this story, but he has been reminding his colleagues at Discovery that building a successful cable network is always a "journey." Bravo and Fox News, for instance, took years to find their big audiences.
And Discovery learned its own lesson from one of its cable networks, TLC. Initially positioning TLC as a hip channel, with stars and an LA sensibility, Discovery struggled. TLC's viewers wanted to watch middle America. Today, TLC shows like Cake Boss and Toddlers in Tiaras help make it a top-rated network among female viewers. The lesson? Listen to your audience.
by Patricia Sellers
Will Oprah Winfrey's OWN be a top 10 cable network?
"Technically, I don't think in terms of being in the top 10," Oprah told me in September, before the 1/1/11 launch of her new cable network. "But do I think we will be? Yes."
Fortune's recent cover story, "Oprah's Next Act," detailed her big hopes and just-as-big fears about her new venture. Now it appears that OWN's road to the MOREPatricia Sellers - Feb 28, 2011 3:56 PM ET
by Patricia Sellers
Did you hear that Lady Gaga was the magazine world's No. 1 hit-maker in 2010? So says the Audit Bureau of Circulations, which found that the provocative performer sold more magazine covers last year than any other celebrity.
That got me thinking...Lady Gaga shares a trait with two other powerful women who are making news this week: Oprah Winfrey and Cathie Black, the new chancellor of New York City's MOREPatricia Sellers - Jan 5, 2011 11:42 AM ET
by Patricia Sellers
Oprah Winfrey arrived on cable this weekend at long last. And I do mean long.
When I interviewed Oprah in her Chicago office a few months ago, she pulled a piece of paper out of her desk drawer. It was a note, scrawled in pencil, that Stedman Graham, her boyfriend, wrote to her when they were on vacation together in April 1992. Oprah had never shared the note with MOREPatricia Sellers - Jan 3, 2011 12:48 PM ET
Is Martha Stewart going the way of Oprah?
Seems so, given that Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSO) has sealed a deal to move her syndicated daytime TV show to the Hallmark Channel.
The news comes two months after Oprah Winfrey rocked the broadcast TV world by announcing that she's quitting her syndicated show in September 2011 to focus on her new cable network, OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network.
Surely, neither Oprah now Martha, MOREPatricia Sellers - Jan 27, 2010 12:27 PM ET
"You know I believe in signs."
You probably don't know that about Oprah Winfrey since you're not sitting around watching Oprah at 4 p.m. each day. (Rather, you're trying to keep your job, aren't you?)
But the queen of media mentioned this to me when we were talking about Tom Freston, the former Viacom (VIA.B) CEO whom Sumner Redstone fired in 2006 and Winfrey immediately went after. (Read "The Most Wanted Man MOREPatricia Sellers - Feb 4, 2009 12:55 PM ET
When I give talks on the best CEOs and their career strategies, I pass on this advice: Think of your career not as a ladder but as a jungle gym. Particularly in today's tumultuous and unpredictable environment, who knows where the best opportunities will lie a year from now--or even next week? If you navigate your career as if you're on a jungle gym, you use your peripheral vision and MOREPatricia Sellers - Aug 11, 2008 12:24 PM ET
High-placed media-industry sources tell me that Susan Lyne has been in touch with Oprah and her folks about running OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network. Lyne, who quit the CEO post at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSO) last week, won't comment. Nor will Oprah. But the cable startup—a joint venture of Oprah's Harpo Inc. and Discovery Communications that's due to launch in September 2009— would be a natural fit for Lyne, MOREPatricia Sellers - Jun 18, 2008 2:59 PM ET
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