Despite conventional wisdom, Oprah's fans don't blindly follow her every command. In fact, two months after its launch, her OWN Network is struggling to find an audience, even though Oprah is constantly plugging it on her talk show. The New York Times reports:
OWN, her two-month-old channel, is attracting fewer viewers than the obscure channel it replaced, Discovery Health. At any given time this month, there have been about 135,000 people watching OWN, according to the Nielsen Company, and only about 45,000 of those people are women ages 25 to 54, the demographic that the channel is focusing on.
Those ratings levels, down about 10 percent from Discovery Health's levels last year, are being carefully watched by people who would like to rebuild cable channels around other celebrities, and by investors who worry that OWN is a drag on Discovery's stock.
OWN executives counter that that the network's 12 new shows are actually doing better than the programs they replaced, people just aren't watching reruns. They also say the network can't be fairly judged until the fall, when Rosie O'Donnell's talk show debuts and the network starts running episode from the past 25 years of The Oprah Winfrey Show. OWN becoming the only source for Oprah updates once her talk show ends in September shouldn't hurt ratings either.
Ultimately, their claim that the network just needs time to develop may prove right. The low ratings may surprise people who believe that, like Liz Lemon, most middle-aged women follow the mantra, "I pretty much just do whatever Oprah tells me to." This is proof that everything Oprah touches doesn't instantly turn to gold, but the network could still become a success. After all, her uncanny ability to sell millions of cashmere sweaters with a single plug didn't develop overnight.