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.
Last fall, in Oprah's Next Act, Oprah Winfrey talked about how she has learned to embrace her power.
Well, she did that today, by naming herself CEO of OWN, her new cable network that's been struggling to find its audience.
So much for the life of leisure Oprah once imagined she might have after her daytime talk show ended. ("La-di-da, I'll do a show and then I'll go have lunch with my MOREPatricia Sellers - Jul 13, 2011 5:05 PM ET
I was on stage with Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the producer and director of Miss Representation, on Friday just after the news broke that Christina Norman was out as CEO of Oprah Winfrey's new TV network, OWN.
What an odd coincidence, since Newsom's documentary explores the dearth of women in "clout positions" in the mainstream media. Newsom says that this number is 3%.
Clearly, it is getting worse.
The day before Norman, a former president MOREPatricia Sellers - May 9, 2011 2:54 PM ET
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
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
by Patricia Sellers
Does it seem, sometimes, that it's Oprah's World and we're just living in it?
There she is on TV everyday -- not only on The Oprah Winfrey Show but also a virtual presence, at least, on Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, and other shows that she and her company, Harpo, have created.
She's on every cover of her magazine, O, telling us what to eat, what to buy, and how to MOREPatricia Sellers - Oct 1, 2010 1:53 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
"If I lost control of the business, I'd lose myself--or at least the ability to be myself. Owning myself is a way to be myself."
--Oprah Winfrey, in "The Business of Being Oprah," a 2002 cover story that I wrote about the billionaire media titan. Back then, Oprah was figuring out who she wanted to be, beyond a daytime talk-show host. She had recently (and warily) formed a partnership with Hearst--from MOREPatricia Sellers - Nov 20, 2009 6:30 PM ET
by Patricia Sellers
Now that Oprah Winfrey is talking about her life-changing moves--to cable from broadcast TV and to Los Angeles from Chicago--I have to say: I'm not surprised at all.
After all, Oprah, who says she'll end her daytime show in September 2011, does things only one way: with her full self in the game.
What I know for sure (and she does too): Building a major cable network will take all MOREPatricia Sellers - Nov 20, 2009 3:43 PM ET
Since Tom Freston got blown out of Viacom (VIAB) - ousted by hard-to-please chairman Sumner Redstone in 2006 - he's been doing lots of things that other ex-CEOs wouldn't fathom getting into. Working with Oprah Winfrey and Bono. Making films in Afghanistan, where he once lived. Funding humanitarian projects in Kabul and southeast Asia too.
You can read about all this in my profile of Freston in the current issue of MOREPatricia Sellers - Feb 11, 2009 1:43 PM ET
|McDonald's gives Charles Ramsey free food for a year|
|Where your donation dollars go|
|Hedge fund guru says moms and trading don't mix|
|Doomsday investors betting on market crash|
|Investors consider life after Fed stimulus|