Zaslav: Give Oprah Some Time


Despite disappointing ratings and increased costs, Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav told an audience at an investor conference Wednesday that he still has faith in the Oprah Winfrey Network, asking viewers to give the channel time to establish its footing.
"My job, Oprah's job, is to create a meaningful audience for OWN over the next two years," Zaslav said at the UBS Media & Communications conference in New York Wednesday. "That's what you should watch for and I think we're on our way."
Discovery launched OWN on Jan. 1 amid much fanfare, but despite a big ratings gain in its first week - it averaged 505,000 viewers in primetime between Jan. 1-9 - OWN has been a ratings disappointment. In November, according to Nielsen Media Research, primetime total viewers were down 16% from 240,000 to 202,000 viewers and women 25-54 declined 3% from 78,000 to 76,000. Total day viewers were down 22% from 144,000 to 113,000 and women 25-54 were off 8% from 48,000 to 44,000, according to Nielsen.
The network has also been costly. Discovery committed $189 million in funding for the network at its launch but as of Sept.30 its investment in the network had ballooned to $254 million, according to financial statements.
To its credit OWN has launched several new shows in the past several months that have shown some ratings gains, including The Rosie Show, hosted by comedian Rosie O'Donnell. The network also has been a hit in the African-American community, with Welcome to Sweetie Pie's, which follows former Ike and Tina Turner back-up singer Robbie Montgomery as proprietor of a successful family-owned St. Louis soul food restaurant and Our America with Lisa Ling. Sweetie Pie's, which was renewed by OWN in November, has averaged 388,000 total viewers and a 0.38 rating among women aged 25-54 in its Saturday time slot, but Zaslav said that rating rises to a 2 in the African-American community. An episode of the recently renewed Our America focusing on African-American men in prison, also drew a 2 rating in the African American community, Zaslav said.
"The African-American community is finding OWN a little bit faster than the rest of America," Zaslav said, adding that he has high hopes for Winfrey's new talk show Oprah's Next Chapter, which will debut in January.
Zaslav insisted advertisers remain supportive of OWN.
"Advertisers have been very, very supportive. We're just getting going. They're excited about the mission," he said. "If you can create a network in a niche that doesn't exist and then deliver something that is meaningful, you can create a big business. CNBC did it. We think we can do it with OWN. ...We just have a fair amount of work to do over the next two years to find that audience and get them spending time with us."