Let the Countdown Begin….

I can’t wait. It’s almost here. Just two more days from today, timed perfectly to the New Year. No, it’s not a revolutionary diet (which I need) or a über effective exercise program (in the film “Something About Mary” Harlan Williams had the hilarious “7 Minute Abs” platform)….it’s so much better than that…..

On January 1st, at NOON, Oprah launches her network!!!!! YES! 24 hours a day of Oprah and her friends! Aren’t you just tingling all over….in a tizzy?  I am soooooo ready to OWN it!

This can’t be anything more than a reminder for you…..I mean, who hasn’t seen the huge volume of stories about this coming, life changing cable channel that will pick you up, spin you around and make your daily existence everything it can and should be! Thanks of course, to Oprah and her version of the Howard Stern Wack-Pack of  stars.

The channel itself has been years in the making, fraught with stops and starts, missed deadlines, big time consulting talent, bigger money and management upheaval.

In what amounts to what I would call a low stakes gamble, Discovery CEO David Zaslav had inherited some underperforming assets when joining the company and was astute enough to approach the Queen of Daytime TV with an offer she couldn’t refuse….a 50% ownership stake in a new channel in exchange for her name, talents and healthy internet properties. The plan was to take the existing Discovery Health distribution platform…roughly 75 million homes….and reformat it to Oprah’s style and messaging. Very smart.

This isn’t Oprah’s first stab at a cable channel. She was an early partner, with other TV heavyweights Gerry Laybourne and Tom Werner/Marcy Carsey in the creation of Oxygen back in the mid-90s. Oprah bailed early on when she found their programming was not quite to her standards and didn’t reflect her unique sensibilities. This time, with her name on the proverbial door and her daily syndicated show set to end this year, I think its safe to assume she sticks around. And if you have read past postings of mine, you know I like 2nd chances since I am searching for one myself….so I will root for her to succeed.

While Oprah herself is not my thing, I am a huge admirer of what she accomplished. The woman clearly resonates with a huge existing fan base. Her daily syndicated show will keep her in the public view and can provide significant promotional support.  And top management has been hitting all the right notes about the challenges that lie ahead and the patience required to hit its stride, lowering expectations early on.

Management is right on….new services take time to find their voice… and it also takes time for audiences to find them on the cable dial.   OWN’s distribution is more limited than the numbers would show….I live in Cablevision country and only this week did the cabler strike a deal to clear the channel…. offered on channels 180 and 760. As a low-level basic services subscriber, I know that 180 is on the basic digital tier that I now don’t pay for and wonder about 760 as well.  I’d be curious to know how many of the now 85 million homes OWN claims to clear can actually get the channel….and what is just cable distribution fluff…..meaning homes that could get the channel if they paid up to another level of service (or pass in cable lingo) versus actually clear the channel itself.

Just as important as clearing homes is where the channel itself is located amidst all the choices. In my house, channel 180 is surrounded by Logo at 179 and Jewelry Television at 182.  Not sure I’d just find that on my own doing some channel surfing.  Ideally, OWN would probably like a slot much lower in number on the cable box, near other services that draw a sizable audience and have a similar message or demographic profile, like Discovery, Bravo, Lifetime, maybe even the news networks.

Other challenges exist as well….we know that cable network revenues are derived for the most part by subscriber fees. In this week’s Cablevision deal, insiders have said that OWN will be free to Cablevision for a year or two….with hopes to earn roughly 25 cents per subscriber down the line. That’s healthy stuff.  On the advertising side, I have little doubt that Discovery sales guru Joe Abruzzese has already exceeded their year one estimates. Advertisers love that Oprah and Joe is smart enough to put any concerns they may have about this new service out of their view.

Zaslav and his team are saying all the right things….give us some time, we’ll figure it out, get the message right and resonate with a clearly definable viewership. I like their chances.

Here’s a link to the excellent TV writer Gary Levin’s USA Today article on the  subject….. http://www.usatoday.com/life/television/news/2010-12-29-oprah29_CV_N.htm

Who knows? Maybe they’ll even create a 5 minute abs workout that I can stick with?


That dude Adam Richman, star of Man Vs. Food, can eat! And he’s pretty funny about it too. Check the show out on Travel Channel.

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