The 3 Problems with the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN)


By Herndon Davis 

Last week Christina Norman, was dismissed from her duties as CEO of Oprah Winfrey-Discovery Channel Communications reportedly for managing the four month OWN network with ratings weaker than the network it replaced. Although dramatic in fashion, the public firing of Ms. Norman still won’t solve the problems plaguing the fledgling network.  Fundamentally OWN was flawed  from day one when it failed to provide a network fully scheduled with 7 day a week original programming to cover the majority of the day from 7am to 12 midnight.

Instead the network went live Jan 1, 2011 not fully baked, prepared and seemingly a bit full of itself to think that excited fans like myself would stick around for months watching repeats of shows that had just debuted.  Who in their right mind has the patience to watch reruns for the majority of the week until a new episode of their favorite show is fully produced and brought onto the air?? 

Certainly and thankfully the Tiffany, Peacock and Mouse Networks don’t operate on such silly schedules during its regular 26 week viewing season.  And when a viewer can simply lift their remote and scroll between 250-500 basic, premium, sports and movie channels, why would Ms. Winfrey and Discovery Communications  think people would actually stick around for almost 5 months until a new episode or a brand new show suddenly appears on the OWN dial??

Since the very beginning the network has been a revolving door of stellar talent. At least four other high ranking executives including a previous CEO have left the organization. In fact OWN’s official launch date was actually postponed twice before it finally hobbled onto the cable network stage of entertainment in January.  As a former corporate finance management professional and project manager, these facts send red flags up all over the place concerning the work environment and viability of OWN.  

So enters Ms. Norman, the former president of the stable and predictable MTV network into a literal startup company environment with very deep pockets but also with a production schedule that’s well, running behind schedule and probably overrunning too.  As someone who has worked in a startup environment, I can vouch for the sheer hell on earth that exists for everyone involved until the organization is able to gain a firm footing in the world.

In addition, I also fault OWN’s social and digital media strategy which sucked a large bag of rotten Easter eggs.  Here’s why.  On EVERY major network and on the majority of cable channel network websites, a user is able to watch full episodes of their favorite shows which are archived for several weeks at a time.  Not so for OWN or at least not for long as they wavered back and forth on the issue. 

One week I could watch full episodes, the next week I couldn’t.  During those off-weeks I could only watch 1-3 minute clips of my favorite shows.  Then the next week it flip-flopped, I was able to watch full episodes again. Well how on earth are you going to keep me as an interested viewer if most of your on-air programming consist of repeats and then you prevent me from watching a missed episode in its entirely on the internet?? I’ll tell you what it does.  It makes me distance myself from a network I once proudly tweeted and Facebooked my enthusiasm and newfound allegiance and loyalty about.

Finally, I sense that a cloud of arrogance and self-entitlement might be floating above the OWN headquarters building on the Miracle Mile stretch of Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles.  It has been a long held belief that Oprah Winfrey fans and a host of related demographics would suddenly come into the light, realize the error of their ways and make OWN their new television mecca while totally dismissing say the Food Network, Hallmark Channel, Lifetime Network, WeTV and a host of smaller home and hearth channels geared towards women.

Well it’s about time that OWN finally woke up and smelled the aroma of reality.  It must push, pull and kick onto the air a fully loaded 7 day a week schedule of original programming along with a more effective digital and social media strategy.  But most importantly OWN’s board and senior executive management must level-set their expectations of success downward a bit at least for the first couple of years.  Just because you built it doesn’t necessarily mean people will come and watch.   And to expect a four month old network to fly alongside the cable giants of TBS, Bravo, A&E and the Lifetime networks is beyond ridiculous. It will take time, patience and dogged persistence in order to succeed. Just ask Ms. Winfrey herself.

Herndon Davis is a media analyst, speaker, and author of the book, “Repackaged Common Sense.”  He can be reached at