Oprah’s network off to slow start

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.”

How-to journalism with YouTube

YouTube has launched a new video channel called the Reporters’ Center to teach aspiring citizen journalists everything they need to know, with contributions from Bob Woodward, Katie Couric and a slew of other organizations including Reuters.

The advice ranges from the prosaic (“How to distribute your YouTube video on Facebook,” “How to not sound like an idiot“) to the profound.

“The first rule of reporting is to make sure you get back alive,” the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof tells viewers in “Covering a Global Crisis.” “There’s no point in getting a great interview with a warlord if afterward he kills you and takes your recorder.”

‘How do you like the weather in Jordan, Senator?’

barackThe big three networks — and their big three evening news anchors — are all over Barack Obama’s trip to the Middle East. Extensive coverage is planned, interviews will be touted, and ABC, NBC and CBS are sure to document his every more.

So is this attention on his trip just more evidence that the media plays favorites with Obama, as some have argued? (Who can forget the SNL skit?)

One evening news anchor, CBS’ Katie Couric,  made her feelings on the subject quite clear in a talk with TV critics. She believes there are “a number of really critical questions” Obama needs to answer about foreign policy.

CBS News = CNN?

CBS Anchor Katie CouricIf CBS tosses its news operation and channels that of CNN, would you care? That conundrum brings to mind a tough question for the media industry as a whole: content may be king, but does brand matter, especially with news?

The New York Times says executives from CBS and Time Warner have discussed reducing CBS’s news-gathering capacity while keeping its top personalities, such as Katie Couric, and paying a fee to buy CNN’s news feeds. Or CBS might keep its correspondents in certain regions but pair them with CNN crews. Anchors like Anderson Cooper already appear on both networks.

Variety says insiders at the two companies “downplayed” the report.

Sure broadcasting legends like Fred Friendly and William Paley may be turning in their graves, but in a world of declining viewership for network news and increased popularity of news consumed on the Web or mobile devices with aggregators like Drudge and Google News, one wonders if this is a smart cost-cutting move for CBS. CBS news is mired in last place amid the continuing struggles of Couric, who was given a $15 million a year contract, to attract new viewers, the Times said.