UPDATE, 6:50 AM: Not much from the conference call with analysts about the most interesting story at Discovery: the recent changes at its struggling joint venture with Oprah Winfrey, OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. Oprah recently named herself CEO and Chief Creative Officer. Zaslav says that “she is in place as CEO already,” and “we now have her creative team in place.” That means Discovery COO Peter Ligouri — named OWN’s interim CEO in May when the partners dumped Christina Norman — can “spend more time with us.”
UPDATE: Discovery Chief Says 3D TV Growing “Slower Than Expected” As 2Q Company Results Beat Estimates
Oprah Winfrey told the cable industry this morning that the launch of her OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network was filled with “bumps” in part because “I was all in with one foot out the door” as she finished the final season of her syndicated talk show. But she assured operators that she now has “the ability to commit my full energy, feet first, body immersed” with her staff “completely 100% (committed) to the OWN mission.” Winfrey’s first appearance at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s annual trade show came at a time when she desperately needs the industry’s support. Many operators have wondered how much distribution, promotion, and financial support to offer OWN. Winfrey’s much-ballyhooed joint venture with Discovery Communications replaced Discovery Health in January, but wasn’t able to improve on its ratings. Last month Winfrey and Discovery dumped Christina Norman as OWN’s CEO and gave Discovery COO Peter Ligouri the job of turning the channel around. Cable executives say privately that although Winfrey’s intuitive management style worked well for her TV show, a cable channel needs more organizational discipline — something that they hope Ligouri will provide. At the cable show, Winfrey seemed to acknowledge that OWN needs different skills. “Over the years I had complete control,” she said. “It’s a little harder making a judgment as to what other shows can do. It’s about finding your particular flow and being able to connect to it.” But she added that OWN’s viewers may have …
If you listened carefully, it sure sounded like Oprah Winfrey is starting to acknowledge what everybody else seems to know: that OWN — her cable channel joint venture with Discovery Communications — has been a disappointment since it was launched in January. “We’re all about raising this child, and it does indeed take a village,” the talk-show hostess told an audience of advertisers and ad buyers at Discovery’s upfront presentation Thursday. She added that “we are all learning more and more about the viewers.” She promised that, once her syndicated daytime talk show ends in May, “I get to devote my full attention to OWN,” but not until September. OWN’s live total day ratings among people between ages 25 and 54 were down 3.8% in the first quarter from the numbers that the channel it replaced, Discovery Health, delivered during the same period last year.
Four months ago, Rosie O’Donnell, who hosted the syndicated The Rosie O’Donnell Show and did a stint on ABC’s The View, teamed with syndication veterans Dick Robertson and Scott Carlin for a new syndicated daytime talk show. Now they have found a buyer, Oprah Winfrey’s upstart cable network OWN, a co-venture with Discovery Communications. Interesting move by Winfrey, who once competed with O’Donnell for the title of daytime talk show queen at the height of The Rosie O’Donnell Show in the late 1990s.
O’Donnell is a polarizing figure with strong political views and aggressive style who had previously indicated that she planned to stay true to herself on her new show. So giving her a daily talker on OWN, a network built on the premise of inspiring women and helping them better their lives, is somewhat surprising. But the description of the new show supplied by OWN seems to indicate that there will be more of the 1990s “queen of nice” bubbly persona than the darker, more controversial O’Donnell we’ve seen in the final stage of her daytime talk show, on The View as well as on her radio show on Sirius XM.
For Deadline today, freelance journalist Diane Haithman covered the Hollywood Radio and Television Society’s Newsmaker luncheon at the Beverly Hilton:
What will the TV industry have left to buzz about after fallen NBC talk show host Conan O’Brien’s new 11 PM show launches in November on TBS? And the world finally finds out whether his young, hip, Twitter-happy fans will follow him from NBC to cable? Once again, NBC and Conan launched the discussion at yet another industry gathering. O’Brien’s choice to sign with TBS instead of Fox after the “fairly catastrophic” NBC debacle (as FBC’s Kevin Reilly called it) was used as a starting point for a discussion about whether cable TV represents the television industry’s sweet spot in 2010. Oprah Winfrey’s move from syndication to starting her own cable network got a mention, too, but that was announced way back in 2009 — and she’s just not as much fun to talk about as Conan.
On the panel billed as “a post-upfronts look at the business of the business”: O’Brien’s attorney Leigh Brecheen, partner and head of television at the law firm Bloom Hergott; Paul Lee, president of ABC Family; Steve Mosko, president of Sony Pictures Television; Kevin Reilly, president of Fox Broadcasting Company; Chris Silbermann, president of ICM; and Tim Spengler, president of Initiative USA.
Well, time will tell whether cable is good to Conan – but what about everybody else? The rest of the discussion revolved around whether 2010’s promising upfronts mean that traditional, scripted broadcast TV series are back on top – and whether the networks can exist in happy harmony with cable channels, online TV options and VOD.