Winfrey revels in OWN profitability, ratings
FILE - In this July 31, 2013 file photo, media mogul and actress Oprah Winfrey attends a special screening of "Lee Daniels' The Butler" hosted by O, The Oprah Magazine, at Hearst Tower, in New York. Oprah's OWN channel is in the black for the first time since its rocky start two-and-a-half years ago. More than 30 new advertisers are joining original heavyweight sponsors Procter & Gamble and General Electric, and are paying higher rates as the channel has found its programming and distribution footing. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)
LOS ANGELES (AP) — "Oh my God, worst hairdo ever," exclaims Oprah Winfrey, catching sight of her 1990s talk-show self on an OWN office TV showing "Oprah: Where Are They Now?" But she glances approvingly at another monitor showing a Tyler Perry sitcom.
While the talk show — hair aside — represents the glory days of Winfrey's past, Perry's "The Haves and the Have Nots" is part of a brightening future for the Oprah Winfrey Network.
OWN is in the black for the first time since its rocky start two-and-a-half years ago. More than 30 new advertisers are joining original heavyweight sponsors Procter & Gamble and General Electric, and are paying higher rates as the channel has found its programming and distribution footing.
Headlines about profitability and audience growth have replaced the drumbeat of speculation that her ambitious venture with Discovery Communications might end up a costly flop and an uncharacteristic failure for her.
Now, she says, "rewarding" is the word for her experience at OWN, both as the chairwoman and CEO shaping the channel and as a viewer lodestone who hosts several series including "Oprah's Next Chapter" and "Oprah's Lifeclass."
"I no longer have such fear and anxiety about it. I really have more confidence in my decisions," Winfrey said. "In the beginning, I was in a lot of meetings where people said, 'You don't understand cable.' ... I'd say, 'But I do understand the audience. Aren't people the same?'"
The answer is yes, says Winfrey, who's enjoying a career renaissance with OWN's turnaround and her return to big-screen acting in "Lee Daniels' The Butler," No. 1 at the box office for two weeks with more than $50 million in tickets sales.
Her confidence in OWN also is backed up by numbers.
For the year to date, viewership is up 22 percent among the target audience of adult women and 23 percent among all viewers compared to last year, according to Nielsen Co. In the third quarter, prime-time viewership among women 25 to 54 and total viewers each are up more than 60 percent compared to 2012.
For August, OWN drew a channel-high 536,000 prime-time viewers, a fraction of the millions that watched Winfrey's talk show but respectable for a developing cable channel.
Instead of defending staff layoffs and early misses including Rosie O'Donnell's talk show, Winfrey and her executive team can wax passionate about OWN's audience empowerment mission, nascent stars including motivational speaker Iyanla Vanzant and upbeat series like the newly announced reality show "Crazy.Sexy.Life." The network will also feature fresh-out-of-rehab Lindsay Lohan in an eight-part docuseries based on her life.
"They are finally hitting their stride and the expectations the network had when it was launched are finally starting to be reached," said analyst Brad Adgate of Horizon Media. "Oprah is back to being part of the conversation."
It was those early expectations that put immense pressure on the former daytime queen and on Discovery, which has invested a reported $500 million-plus in the venture that it co-owns with Winfrey's Harpo Inc.
Back in January 2011, OWN's splashy introduction failed to drive early ratings, and skeptics gained more fuel with March 2012 staff layoffs that were billed as eliminating redundancies between Discovery and Harpo.