After a year of unexpected ratings and brand struggles, Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network may finally be turning the proverbial corner.
The talk-show legend in June of 2011 took over the reins of the struggling network — which, after a highly-touted launch that January, failed to match the primetime viewership of the network it replaced, Discovery Health — and has slowly increased viewership with several new shows (Welcome to Sweetie Pies, Iyanla: Fix My Life) including new entries featuring Winfrey herself (Oprah’s Next Chapter). As a result, OWN in third-quarter 2012 posted the best quarterly ratings performance its history, with double-digit gains in primetime among total viewers and its target female 25-54 audience.
The network is also finally drawing more viewers than its predecessor: OWN’s 330,000 3Q primetime viewers also easily surpassed the 239,000 viewers Discovery Health garnered in 2010.
OWN hopes to add to its ratings momentum with the addition of its first two scripted series from prolific writer/producer Tyler Perry as part of a multiyear production deal reached between the two parties earlier this month. Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead recently spoke to OWN co-president Erik Logan about the network’s deal with Perry, as well as its recent ratings surge.
MCN: With nine straight months of ratings gains and coming off the best third quarter in the history of the network, is OWN finally at a point ratingswise that it should be 22 months after its launch?
Erik Logan: I don’t know how to answer that. We get asked the question, “Where do you think you are?,” and Oprah said it best in saying, “I think we are where we need to be for now.” We just want to continue to focus on getting better — we’re thrilled that the audience has reacted as it has.
When you look at the three A’s — how well our audience has supported our network over the last nine months, and the momentum is very real; you look at our advertisers — we launched with 10 solid advertisers and they’ve stood by us; and then you look at our affiliate base, including our recent deal with Comcast in which they’re taking us up in distribution, that feels great. Our partners Discovery and [Discovery Communications CEO] David [Zaslav] have been very vocal about the financial state of where we are. If you look at those three A’s and you look at the moves that we’ve made with the addition of world-class talent like Tyler Perry, to still be able to say that we’re going to be cash-flow breakeven in the second half of 2013 for a network as young as we are, is a really powerful statement. We feel really good about the future and [the fact that] we have the best still in front of us.
MCN: How big is OWN’s recent production deal with Tyler Perry for the network’s overall brand?
EL: It is very exciting — it’s a really great thing for our network. Tyler is an immense creative genius and we think the collaboration between he and Oprah will bear some wonderful things for the network.
MCN: Were you talking with Tyler Perry about the deal for a while or did this come to fruition very quickly?
EL: It’s gone on for some months obviously, and Oprah and Tyler are friends first and have known each other for quite some time. It came about very organically in conversations between those two talking about how Tyler can help the network. One thing led to another and we started talking about ways that we could put a deal together. We had a little inertia and momentum over the summer and got to a place where everybody felt great about it.
MCN: Did reports about a potential Tyler Perry channel with Lionsgate hamper or impede your negotiations with Perry?
EL: Not to my knowledge. This really had its own flow and speed. The degree to which he was at whatever stage he was with whomever he was talking to we weren’t privy to. We had a pace and a rhythm to the deal and it happened when it was ready. Never once did we sense any impediments — it was just a matter of us putting something together that was right for both Oprah and Tyler.
MCN: As part of the deal, Tyler Perry is signed on to develop two scripted series — is there a specific number of shows Tyler is contracted to develop for OWN under the deal?
EL: The great thing about this deal is that it has a lot of flexibility for him and for Oprah. It’s a multiyear deal and as part of it, we’re going to take our first bold step into scripted. We feel the time is right for our network — our last two months have been really impressive in terms of momentum and [ratings] numbers for a network as young as ours. We think we can continue our growth and our inertia and really solidify ourselves.
As far as the deal goes, Tyler is a creative guy, and this deal is structured to allow him to really use his creativity, and I think with Oprah’s creative insight, the two of them working together could really be something special.
MCN: Tyler Perry has created three successful comedy shows with TBS – will he stick to developing comedies for OWN or will he look to get into dramas or even reality programming?
EL: Tyler’s creative — he’s a multi-dimensional creative person that has proven himself to do not only comedies in the television and theatrical space, but also some very powerful [theatrical] drama, most recently Good Deeds. So he’s got a lot of ability as a writer and director, and I think as he and Oprah work on the creative, we’ll see where that road takes us. Right now, we’re just talking about going to two shows. We haven’t disclosed what type of shows they are, but all of that will come to daylight sooner rather than later since we have announced a mid-2013 date to have these shows on the air. He’s got some big ideas, so we welcome his creativity and passion.