Starting an entire television network is a big deal. There are issues around distribution and viewership (which can be inextricably tied), and the idea of running programming 24 hours a day is a mind-blowing task. You need breakout hits, committed advertisers, and a great deal of patience.
So, when Oprah launched OWN (the Oprah Winfrey Network) I was happy to see advertisers jump on the bandwagon early—and appear to be hanging on during the rough couple of years as the network comes into its OWN own. Media critics have been less forgiving—speaking more about low ratings and high costs, then explaining what it really takes to pull off a successful new network.
Next, I was glad to see Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav (OWN’s co-owner) announcing recently that he expects the network to break even in 2013. Zaslav said that "we expect to achieve cash-flow breakeven in the second half of 2013," and that the company anticipates that funding for OWN in 2012 will be less than in 2011. This is all good news after Bloomberg Businessweek reported that the network may have lost $330 million since its inception in 2008.
As another indicator that things are progressing as they should, OWN seems to have its first breakout hit—all networks need one. Fox had The Simpsons, Bravo had the Real Housewives, and AMC had Mad Men. Oprah's Next Chapter appears to be OWN’s The Simpsons, delivering record ratings for the network and landing major exclusive interviews, including Oprah's sit-down with Whitney Houston's daughter following her mother’s death.
Oprah has cancelled poorly performing shows, placed herself in the CEO chair, reduced staff, and added new cable distribution agreements—all signs that OWNership is a good thing for Ms. Winfrey. Hopefully the rough waters will subside and the wind will be in her sails in the near future.