Industry insiders believe the channel – the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) – will not last another year unless they come up with a hit show and make a dramatic turnaround.
Though ratings have seen a slight increase thanks to Oprah’s Next Chapter, it has stumbled since its inception. It is believed shows which do not feature Oprah herself are not popular with viewers.
Discovery Communications, which partnered with Winfrey to launch the network and has been underwriting its costs, has invested nearly $600 million in it since 2008, according to Businessweek magazine.
Since it started on the air in January 2011, it may have lost as much as $330million, according to the magazine.
David Zaslav, the CEO of Discovery Communications who talked Oprah into the idea of OWN, is routinely impatient with money-losing operations within his company and insiders say he will not put up with the failing network for much longer.
Winfrey appeared before advertisers two weeks ago to ask for more time, telling them: “I am in the climb of my life. I am climbing Kilimanjaro.”
Although she doesn’t risk losing a lot of money from the channel’s failings, Oprah’s reputation is at stake.
Over her 39-year career, The Oprah Winfrey Show had as many as 12.5 million viewers. O, The Oprah Magazine had more than 2 million subscribers. And her Internet site, Oprah.com, draws more than 3 million unique visitors a month. Her image as the most successful TV star of her generation is on the line.
In March it was announced that Rosie O’ Donnell’s talk show ‘The Rosie Show’ had been canceled by the network after only 6 months. It debuted with 500,000 viewers, but within days fell to half of that.
In a statement, Oprah Winfrey said, “I thank Rosie from the bottom of my heart for joining me on this journey. She has been an incredible partner, working to deliver the best possible show every single day. As I have learned in the last 15 months, a new network launch is always a challenge and ratings grow over time as you continue to gather an audience.”
In February, Oprah was criticized after she made a controversial effort to boost OWN’s ratings using Twitter.
Competing for viewers on the same night as this year’s Grammy Awards, Winfrey ‘tweeted’ her 9.2million followers, “Every 1 who can, please turn to OWN especially if u have a Nielsen box.”
The tweet was later deleted, Ms Winfrey said, “at the request of Nielsen,” which prohibits clients from attempting to influence ratings.
A backlash of comments followed, with several Twitter users accusing Oprah of “being desperate.”