Oprah’s network off to slow start

April 28, 2011

DiscoveryCommunications CEO David Zaslav is clearly hoping Winfrey finishes up with her daytime gig next month. That’s when she will turn her attention to the Oprah Winfrey Network. OWN, as it’s called, is a joint venture between Discovery and Oprah that has gotten off to a rocky start.

Even Zaslav acknowledges that viewership isn’t what he had hoped.  Ratings “have been below expectations” and it has been “a slower start” than he had wanted, he said on Discovery’s conference call today. The network has plowed big money into OWN — and has high hopes for it. Zaslav is now looking for results.

“As with any new cable channel, some content is working while other programming is not connected with the audience,” he said.

He’s hoping things change when Oprah can spend more time developing OWN. “A lot of what we have coming is the strength of  OWN, and that is Oprah herself. Her  show will be winding down and we will get her team,” he said.

Analyst have given Discovery a pass — for now.

Morningstar analyst Michael Corty tells me:

“The ratings have disappointed management thus far, but keep in mind it’s still early in the game.  It just shows it’s a challenging thing to establish a new cable network. In terms of increasing investment, there is definitely an upfront cost. The cable business is very competitive and while Oprah brings a solid brand name, starting a new network and getting viewership is a challenging task and will take some time.”

The clock is ticking.

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