Oprah Winfrey's make or break moment

Oprah Winfrey speaks at a panel during the OWN portion of the 2011 Summer TCA Tour held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Kai Ryssdal: The Oprah Winfrey Network was launched this past winter in what you can only call a frenzy of anticipation and -- it must be said -- Oprah adoration. Since then, though, the O-W-N -- or OWN, as insiders call it -- nothing. Programming problems, ratings problems, just problems. OWN begins its new season this coming Monday. Oprah herself will be on the air more. Rosie O'Donnell will have a show.

Marketplace's Jennifer Collins has our story.


Jennifer Collins: When the Oprah Winfrey Network launched, Oprah's fans tuned in... for about a month. Since then ratings are down 30 percent.

Elayne Rapping of SUNY Buffalo says it's not tough to see why.

Elayne Rapping: Unless you really are interested in Oprah, you're going to find the kind of things she does on many other cable networks of all kinds really.

Talk shows, documentaries, reality shows, and starting Monday, this TV veteran:

Rosie O'Donnell: It's me, Rosie O'Donnell. Not Kathy Bates and not Rosanne Barr. People sometimes in the mall mistake me for them.

Rapping says prospects might be better with mistaken identity.

Rapping: Rosie O'Donnell is very old school and people, I think, have had enough of Rosie O'Donnell.

To promote Rosie and other shows, the network is doubling down. Spending big, reportedly $15 million to market the new shows. Media analyst Derek Baine of SNL Kagan says the big push is because right now OWN's giving itself away for free. But it wants to start charging cable operators carriage fees roughly on par with a network like Bravo.

Derek Baine: They're going to have to get the ratings up significantly in order to justify paying that high of a fee.

Which means, says UCLA media management professor Nelson Gayton, the network needs a lot, well, Oprah.

Nelson Gayton: She may have to have more of a presence in her own programming.

And now that she's wrapped up her daytime talk show, fans may get a network that lives up to its name -- all Oprah, all the time.

I'm Jennifer Collins for Marketplace.

About the author

Jennifer Collins is a reporter for the Marketplace portfolio of programs. She is based in Los Angeles, where she covers media, retail, the entertainment industry and the West Coast.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...