Oprah Winfrey channel debuts Saturday, but is it time for a new network?
Oprah Winfrey, whose successful syndicated show is in its last season, is launching her new cable TV network OWN to start the new year. The move is a risky one, media analysts say.
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“Helping people live their best lives is a vision she shares with millions of people,” says Norman.Skip to next paragraph
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While anticipation is high among Oprah loyalists, the risks of moving from her daily, hour-long syndicated show to helming an entire 24/7 cable channel are very real, says Robert Thompson, founder of the Bleier Center of Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University.
With the growing popularity of streaming online TV, for example, cable is by no means the cutting edge of the entertainment universe anymore, he says, noting that in his three-semester course on the history of television, “cable is in the second semester.”
Enormous competition from other entertainment sources means a new venture will live or die by the presence of hit shows that can cut through the content clutter.
“What the network will have to produce fairly quickly,” says Thompson, “are buzz-worthy shows that will move people to actually locate where this new cable channel is on the schedule.”
An uphill battle
The channel being replaced by NOW, Discovery Health, rarely rose above a few hundred thousand viewers, he points out, adding that while cable can survive with far lower ratings than a broadcast network, without impactful content that brings in meaningful viewers, the channel has little hope of real success.
Branding and marketing expert David Johnson, however, pushes the point further, suggesting that Oprah will be fighting an uphill battle, not just against an entertainment-saturated landscape, but against her own image.
“Oprah has tarnished her image in the past few years and alienated many viewers,” says Mr. Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision, a public relations firm.
Prior to Oprah’s endorsement of Barack Obama, he says, she appealed to a wide swath of viewers who felt she was above the sort of partisan nastiness that tainted so much of popular television. But, as she has become more partisan and forceful about her endorsements and preferences, this has turned off many potential viewers.
“This is Oprah over-reaching in a very big way,” Johnson says. The move, he adds, could even turn into a programming fiasco as wrong-headed as when NBC moved Jay Leno to 10 p.m. with disastrous results.
But with 22 programs, OWN CEO Norman says they are taking the long view. “This is not a sprint, it is a marathon.”
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