The Shake Up At OWN

By William A. Foster, IV

In great attempts, it is glorious even to fail. – Cassius Longinus

There appears to be a storm brewing on the horizons at OWN. Maybe, it could even be described as a hurricane. SNL Kagan yesterday reported that OWN, the 50/50 partnership between Oprah Winfrey’s HARPO & Discovery Communications, is hemorrhaging money. In 2011, the network posted a loss of $107 million and is expecting to post a 2012 loss north of $142 million. It is cliche but “OWN, we have a problem.”

OWN this week shook the place up by releasing 30 people and letting go of Rosie O’Donnell. This probably still won’t resolve OWN’s ratings issues. Oprah Winfrey is learning that there is a ocean of difference between operating a one hour program and being responsible for twenty-four hours of programming. The short-term answer has been more Oprah. She has been interviewing the likes of Lady Gaga and Bobbi Kristina Houston. The latter coming shortly after her mother’s death which seemed to leave a bit of a bad taste in some people’s minds and leaving the network still searching for its strategical footing.

It appears both HARPO and Discovery overestimated just how much Oprah Winfrey people really wanted. There is the reality that when Oprah Winfrey backed Presidential Candidate Barack Obama and promoted a controversial religious book that her ratings started a steady decline among her conservative viewership. Ms. Winfrey and Discovery were banking that she would be riding a wave of popularity into their new partnership. Her decision to abandon her apolitical and neutral stances on political and religious topics apparently cost her more viewers than they thought. Up until that point she was essentially Teflon on sensitive issues but those issues were rarely if ever political or religious, which are more divisive than your typical hot button issues.

I’ve made the argument previously that Oprah Winfrey would do well to become a NFL Owner and work out a deal to feature her team on OWN. Whatever the solution is however, let’s hope the leadership at HARPO figures it out quickly or we could see Discovery dissolve the partnership and network. HARPO’s ownership at 50% is the largest current African American owned stake in a network and its potential failure would be a serious setback in our need for more not less institutional ownership.

Disclaimer: There is no ownership of Discover Communications by myself, my business, or my family as of this article’s publishing.

Mr. Foster is the Interim Executive Director of HBCU Endowment Foundation, sits on the board of directors at the Center for HBCU Media Advocacy, & President of AK, Inc. A former banker & financial analyst who earned his bachelor’s degree in Economics & Finance from Virginia State University as well his master’s degree in Community Development & Urban Planning from Prairie View A&M University. Publishing research on the agriculture economics of food waste as well as writing articles for other African American media outlets.

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