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I'm Not An Oprah Fan

By Guest Blogger, Mary Schmidt, Marketing Troubleshooter

OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network Ratings Keep Falling; Now Well Below Discovery Health Women 25-54 Averages

So, apparently I'm not alone.  Of course, you could love her and not like her new network.  (I wouldn't have been interested anyway, once I read this in the NYT review, "OWN isn’t for everyone, and it certainly isn’t for viewers who like Oscar Wilde or can’t read of the death of Little Nell without laughing.")

In a highly unscientific survey (I asked friends) I've found that people think it's - well - boring. "Same old stuff" "re-treads" "Nothing new" "blah" etc.  This from women who were looking forward to the new network. Which is unfortunate, because it would be - er - nice - to have a nice 24-hour non-news network that "inspires, entertains and educates viewers." 

The television critic of The New York Times, Alessandra Stanley, described OWN's debut weekend this way: "Oprah Winfrey said that she wanted to create a cable network without a trace of “mean-spirited” programming, and she has wrung every drop of it from the Oprah Winfrey Network.

Could the ratings problem be that Oprah is relying too heavily on her brand to make the network a success?  Hey, it's got an "O" on it, it'll sell!  And, to be fair, it may take them a while to find their niche, in an industry where people have grown used to (addicted to?) the petty, the shallow and the salacious. Side bar: Can anyone explain the appeal of Chelsea Handler? I found her funny for about two minutes...once...Her decidedly not-nice schtick gets boring really quickly.  And, it' s her show...why does she always look so awful?  Surely she can afford a good make-up person. ANYWAY...back to Oprah and marketing. 

Is it even possible to be both nice and interesting?

But the root cause of the problem could be...she tells her audience that she doesn’t watch television because “I don’t want all that energy coming into my space.” Oprah’s favorite thing: silence.

Hmmm...My least favorite thing: cognitive dissonance. This cynical yet optimistic (yes, you can be both) marketer thinks Oprah should have allowed some of the noise in...it's always a good thing to know about your competition...and what your potential customers are doing now. If you spend all your time in your warm magical bubble, surrounded by adoring fans and synchophants, you lose touch with cold, hard reality. 

For example: Here's what OWN says on the web site: "The Oprah Winfrey Network - is more than a television network, it's a network of people just like YOU."  Well, no, it isn't.  I don't have a billion dollars.  I'm not a Duchess.  I'm not a celebrity drug addict. I'm not Oprah's BFF, Diane Sawyer or Tatum O'Neal. 

Discovery's web site describes OWN as, "the network of self-discovery, connecting people to each other and to their greatest potential."  That's a bit better - but still a very tall order for something that involves people staring into a screen (and needs them to do so for hours and hours at a time in order to charge big bucks for advertising.)  It's difficult to be your best self if you're glued to the tube all day. 

Of course, I'm also not her "target audience" which is "adults 18-49." Guess us over-50s are fully self-actualized. :)

Some who write for this blog are Oprah fans...and that's fine. (We're sorta of like The View in that way.)  I have a tremendous amount of respect for Ms. Winfrey's accomplishments. She worked very, very hard to become the world's first African-American woman billionaire...but...that doesn't make her network entertaining.

P.S. Oscar Wilde said "Life is too important to be taken seriously."  Indeed.  Maybe Oprah needs just a tad more of that old cynic's perspective.

Now, I'm off for the weekend to live my own best life...which means lots of lovely silence, a bit of classic jazz, some time with friends and no television.   Happy Friday to one and all.


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Mary Schmidt

Lena - good points. However, a big part of Oprah's success is - well - luck. As smart as she is and hard as she has worked. So, I'm not sure what lessons any of us can learn by watching her "Facebook for TV" network.

She has certainly done a lot of good - but I think it may be what Yvonne notes - she's beginning to truly believe in the power of the O.

And, no, I don't have to like someone to learn from their success. I really don't care for Martha Stewart - but wow, what a marketing dynamo.


I like Oprah. I love her new network and what I will agree with is: their programming strategy needed a LOT more work before the launched. A LOT MORE.

I think this is why traditional Oprah fans are having a hard time liking the network. I was a huge Oprah fan until she tore out James Frey's soul on television. I saw a REALLY ugly side of her that day and I stopped watching her show that day.

Her new network intrigued me though. Not so much for the programming though, but for the execution of it all. I was curious about how she planned to pull it off.

(I can say though that I get PO'd when I see multiple re-runs of City of Angels. How many times can you show that movie???)

I will say this, she's doing something that I can't do at this stage of my game and, for that, I applaud her.

But, they needed more time to get the programming together for sure. Whatever the deal is, I'm going to continue to watch because I believe success leaves clues and just because I don't care for someone personally, I'm smart enough to not let that get in the way of me learning from their smart business moves.

Another thing that many people probably haven't considered is what it means to own a television network. I don't mean money and all that, I mean the quiet, mostly unknown "perks" that come with owning media. Think about it. This is NOT about television folks. Widen the thought path.

Yvonne DiVita

Oprah is Oprah. Many of us are over it. She, apparently, is not. I watched the coming launch of her new network with curiosity - wondering how she could be planning to serve up the same old same old (which is what she's doing) with a "new" label. Now... I know. My sense is that poor Oprah is beginning to believe all the Oprah hype. But, her attempt to create Facebook for TV (because that's what it is) will fail precisely because... you can't interact with the TV. Now...can I hear it for Ellen DeGeneres? SHE has her sights on the right market - people who watch TV.

Diane Catrambone

Although I'm not glued to the TV every day at 4pm EST, I think Oprah has done much to empower women and make them think more about their life challenges and the power they have to change. Kinda like me:) But..I'm no Oprah! The days of her being close to women like us are OVER for her...no way around it. She won the lottery this time around and I'm guessing it's next to impossible to continue to breathe the same air as us regular folk and see the world from our perspective. I'm glad I'm over 49!

Mary Schmidt

Love the coffee versus tea comparison. Of course, she means she wouldn't watch OTHER TV. Her shows are different (but, but...you still have the same commercials...)


If she doesn't like television and doesn't watch it and made a network for folks just like her, isn't that like making coffee for people who don't drink it? Wouldn't I be better off making something else--like tea? How do you market to someone who has no use -- or interest -- for/in your product?!

Mary Schmidt

I think she means well (most of the time). But there's also a disconnect for me when she talks living the best life and then her focus is giving away material stuff, and graciously accepting the hysterical, screamin', cryin' gratitude of the masses. (Seriously, people. She didn't just give you eternal youth...dial it down a notch or three.)

Debra Gaynor

I want to like Oprah. And sometimes I do. But it irks me that she has annointed herself as the promoter of living your best life when she has no qualifications other than being a talk show host. And I agree with you. How close is she really to everyday women just like US?

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