Sunday, February 19, 2012

OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network and Its Strategic Future, Part 1

I've spent some time not only watching Oprah but more importantly studying her and to some degree integrating her into my teaching as one of the business examples. It even has lead me to start an online show and a cable TV show---looking at the model of Harpo and design of the multiple shows that have come out of that company. The problem with OWN is our perception of Oprah's success from Harpo. It took 4 to 6 years starting from the early 80's to syndication time to actually completely own the Oprah Winfrey Show. It then took another, 3 to 5 years for TV movies, almost 15 years for a feature film and then a magazine deal with Hearst, 8 years before Dr. Phil, 20 years for Rachael Ray, Dr. Oz and Nate Berkus to be spawned. 25 years for OWN. Along with a timeline, this suggests that time is Harpo's greatest strength and where it's advantage is best seen. So now we're looking at Year 2 of OWN. However the platform of cable in a universe based analogy and Discovery as a galaxy, its a greater opportunity than a disadvantage. There's literally more space and time to expand and explore. OWN will not be Oprah. She'll be the vanguard, the spear, the vision but ultimately in a twenty-year perspective, she cannot be the absolute content. One of the best models is the Fox Network and that it took 5 years to find it's legs and 10 years to become a real player and 20 to become true competition.

Oprah on The Rachael Ray Show,
partially owned and distributed by Harpo
The advantage Discovery creates is that it's worldwide, that it's 7 channels---that gives a range of over 1 billion around the world. Now at the peak, Oprah was rocking 12 to 15 million viewers---to multiply that success over multiple shows/formats is going to take time. She's arguably one of the most famous women in America but not the world. She's playing in a new market. She had on her show a young Chinese, Chen Lu Yu, a woman who has a viewership of 200 million a week in China, while Oprah was doing 40 million a week including America and international markets.

Chen Lu Yu of China
(on a set that looks a lot like the Oprah WInfrey Show)
She and Rosie (who was subsequently canceled, Iyanla Vanzant is the new hit show so far) are tent poles to a huge tent. If they're playing conservatively to cross-channel programming through the Discovery 7 then they're aiming for 150 to 200 million total viewership a week from the singular OWN channel.

Harpo has just inked a deal with HBO, Dr. Phil is repeated on OWN, the Oprah Show (no longer under it's one year contractual restrictions with Cap Cities) is now rebroadcast, finally Suze Orman is doing a show, Chaz Bono/Cher, Tyler Perry, Lisa Ling and all of the celebrity guests on Master Class plus rotating feature films.

Like Fox it will take a Simpsons, a Married with Children, American Idol---along with the Fox model; it will take a Sex In The City, The Wire, deep documentaries ala HBO but those shows that helped to tentpole a network require time.

Oprah with Dr. O Nate Berkus,
Dr Phil and Sue Orman, all of their shows
partially owned and distributed by Harpo

We can't review OWN in these first few years for long-term success. We have to see it in increments of 1,3,5,10, 15 and 20 years. Oprah has always played the long game----holding her show on the air until Harpo was self-supporting beyond just her daytime show, expanding into multiple forms of media to literally create its own engine of production in TV, print, cable, publishing (those O magazines compiled books), radio, public showcases, and relationships.

OWN Year 3---they'll have a handful of mini, mid and 1 or 2 large tent poles for the network.

OWN Year 5---there will be at least 3 to 5 large tent poles as the minis and mids provide enough survival time to grow the big ones.

OWN Year 10---a fuller network that is a hybrid of HBO/OWN--its no coincidence that they're in partnership to learn how to do what HBO has done in 20 years. Not the route of the former MTV President.

Because we have to consider what is AFTER reality television? That's Oprah's long-term ability, the capacity to consider the field, the long-term strategy and play hold 'em and build 'em, while maintaining full control and ownership. Not many businesses/owners have the gravitas to play such a long-range game but what the real investment in Oprah by Discovery is, is that she is platinum branded to keep sponsors with her long-term no matter the choppy seas and the ability to mass millions of people to follow.

Now she's traveling to India and other places in the world, becoming International Oprah---I think she's going to do something unique to Americans---bring them the world through their trusted cipher.

Thank you,

(This blog was originally in answer to a commentary system on ( concerning The OWN Network and some responses ideas etc. there.)