OWN on the line: Will Oprah’s new message inspire cable execs?
In her first public appearance since she ended her syndicated talk show, Oprah Winfrey will be the star attraction Thursday morning before a packed house at McCormick Place.
But unlike the fans who filled the United Center for her farewell spectacular last month, the assembled multitude this time will be more interested in hearing about Oprah’s future than celebrating her past.
Her audience will be television executives and cable operators gathered for the 60th annual convention of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. According to the advance billing, she is expected to talk about coming to cable, building the Oprah Winfrey Network brand, and “bringing new voices and great storytelling to the [OWN] network.”
Paula Zahn will lead the conversation with Oprah, which will be streamed starting at 9am Thursday at live.thecableshow.com.
Participants and industry reporters at The Cable Show 2011 also are hoping Oprah lets them in on her strategy to increase viewership for her struggling network. Since its launch as a joint venture between Harpo Inc. and Discovery Communications Jan. 1, OWN has not taken off as expected. Last month Oprah fired Christina Norman after only four months as CEO because of what trade reports cited as the network’s dismal launch.
Now that she’s done with her syndicated talk show and the intense activity surrounding its 25th and final season, Oprah can turn her full attention to nurturing the network that bears her name. “You’ve got to have a clear head to have any imagination or creativity,” she told USA Today. “[Now] I’m going to dive in, [and] I feel hopeful, confident that we’ll be able to figure it out. The biggest challenge is aligning the network with what is my true vision and brand — hope and aspiration — and not acquisitions and reality shows. The other biggest challenge is getting people to know where the network is.”
The contrast between Oprah’s success and the early failure of OWN couldn’t be more stark: Ratings for the final episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show were her highest in more than 18 years, with an estimated 16.4 million viewers tuned in to her farewell May 25. In Chicago, her proportion of viewership far exceeded the national average.
Her departure also leaves her former stations in a ratings bind. The numbers at 9am weekdays are down substantially at ABC 7 since Oprah signed off, with her local talk show replacement, Windy City LIVE, averaging a 2.6 household rating for its first 11 days, compared with a 6.7 rating for Oprah in May 2011 and a 6.5 rating for Oprah in May 2010. Among women between 25 and 54, Windy City LIVE averaged a 1.3 rating, compared to Oprah’s 4.8 rating in May 2011 and 4.1 rating in May 2010.
For now, the syndicated Live with Regis and Kelly, which airs here on WGN, appears to be winning the 9am hour. But that show faces its own challenges with the pending retirement of host Regis Philbin at the end of the year.