Oprah’s OWN Plots ‘Reboot’ as Audience Growth Proves Elusive

Oprah Winfrey’s OWN cable channel is headed for a revamp – shuffling its shows, adding new ones, and preparing a new ad campaign.

The most significant change: Moving the channel’s highest-rated show (and the only one in which Oprah appears regularly) – “Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes” – from Friday to Sunday nights, where TV-viewing levels are higher.

The New York Post reports that the moves are aimed at reassuring advertisers who have become alarmed by the slackening off of viewership for OWN since its high-profile launch on New Year’s Day.

“Ever since the launch, they’ve been kind of dark,” an unnamed “media exec close to OWN” is quoted as saying in the Post story. “The intention is to get back out there and let people know.”

The story says OWN is poised to spend about $5 million on a new ad campaign to draw attention to the move of “Behind the Scenes” and also to support the introduction of several upcoming shows later this year featuring celebrities. The shows, which were previously announced before the OWN launch, are the ones that star Naomi and Wynonna Judd, Shania Twain and Sarah Ferguson, duchess of York.

The Post story said “Behind the Scenes” would move to Sunday night “later this month,” but the story didn’t specify a date. Indeed, repeats of the series have been airing for a while on Sunday nights on OWN, with each week’s new episode premiering on Fridays. Original episodes are not on the schedules posted on the OWN Web site for the next two Sundays, although the move was confirmed by an OWN spokesman.

Separately, one of the top executives of Discovery Networks Inc., co-owner of OWN (Oprah’s the other owner), admitted at an investors’ conference in Florida that growing the audience for OWN is the “hardest part” of the new channel’s development in Year One, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

How big is the viewership problem? The Post noted that ratings for OWN recently dipped “briefly” below the viewership levels for Discovery Health, the moribund channel OWN replaced. And that’s a big problem because the assumption all along has been that, if nothing else, OWN would almost certainly do better than DH. If that doesn’t happen, the logic of launching OWN in the first place will be called into question.

The Post story notes that some of the world’s biggest advertisers, such as Procter & Gamble, have invested heavily in OWN under the assumption that a cable network with Oprah Winfrey’s name on it would be a sure thing.

As the Post points out, the challenge for OWN now is “to show it can deliver Oprah-sized audiences – and so far that has eluded them.”

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