This week, Oprah Winfrey, one of the most successful media personalities and entrepreneurs of all time, started the transition from her home of over 25 years as the host of her own syndicated talk show, launching OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network, her basic cable channel that debuted in over 85 million homes.
Many analysts affirm that Oprah's jump from syndication to cable is well-timed. Eric Deggans, a writer for the St. Petersburg Times, says that over the 25 years since the Oprah Winfrey Show first aired, daily syndicated shows are less powerful than they used to be. Now, consumers routinely absorb their information from a variety of means, and a daily show simply does not carry as much weight as it once did.
Deggans contends that Oprah is displaying temerity as she runs her own channel. "There's really no precedent," Deggans told NPR. "I don't think anyone's ever built an entire cable network around their own personal brand." The move is risky, but Oprah has framed her career on taking risks, according to Christina Norman, who runs OWN.
Norman asserts that the company never set out to make programming that centered entirely around the famous Chicagoan: "That was never the goal of launching OWN." Norman says that the network is aimed at a larger demographic than middle-aged women, noting that "young people admire her for what she's accomplished," while "men look at her as a financial and business success."
Since the network's launch on January 1, the channel has garnered great fanfare, but not without a tinge of controversy. For example, some fans are upset that cable companies are charging high fees for the channel and have posted to comment boards their displeasure. However, initial ratings were strong and Discovery Communications, Oprah's partner on the new cable network, says that it expects OWN to reach profitability in its first year – an impressive feat regardless of who is backing a new channel.
Furthermore, according to the Wall Street Journal, OWN has already signed major advertising deals with some big industry players, including a three-year, $100 million deal with Procter & Gamble.
Nonetheless, only time will tell how OWN will fare in the long-term. Oprah will stop hosting her daytime talk show later in the year to focus on her network, and fans will be pleased as she takes a more active role onscreen.
So far, the channel has delivered in the ratings: On New Year's Day at noon, when OWN premiered, Oprah hosted a special highlighting future programming on the channel, drawing 770,000 people. In the prime evening hours, an average of 391,000 woman in OWN's target age group between 25 and 54 years old tuned in on the same day, ranking number three among all cable networks. Not bad for the first day.