Yesterday's news that Oprah Winfrey's OWN Network had entered into a partnership with Tyler Perry to bring scripted series to the network, was met with a lot of disconcerted voices around the web. To be sure, there was some support. But it seemed the loudest voices were the dissenters.
So I thought I'd take a closer look at the news, and provide some further analysis based on what we know so far.
The first question I had when I read the news last night was, what this all meant for Tyler Perry's plans to launch his own cable TV network; specifically, the plan (which involved Lionsgate and One Equity Partners, co-owners of the TV Guide Channel) was to overhaul the TV Guide Channel, and turn it into Tyler TV (yes, that was a name that was being considered for the new network).
What exactly the revamping plans entailed isn't public; but, what we can now say is that, as the LA Times reports, Tyler TV is officially dead, which makes yesterday's news of his exclusive partnership with OWN, sensible.
As Oprah has experienced over the last 2 years, launching a new network is no small, simple feat. And given her close friendship with Tyler Perry, it wouldn't surprise me if conversations were had between the two about Oprah's well-publicized early struggles in running her new cable TV venture, that eventually discouraged Perry from pursuing his; conversations that may have also included chatter about a potential partnership instead – one that was announced yesterday.
And in exchange, for his part, Perry will get "a small equity stake" in OWN, according to the New York Post today, in addition to a guaranteed future home for his new TV projects; likely seen as a much lower risk proposition than investing in the restructuring of an existing network.
No word on what exactly Perry's percentage stake in OWN will be under this new deal.
Of course TBS gets to keep existing Tyler Perry series in House of Payne, Meet The Browns and For Better Or Worse, which have all been huge draws for the network; so OWN's/Oprah's attraction to the Tyler Perry brand is a no-brainer, especially given their already existing relationship, personal and professional (which started in 2009, when both of them jumped on board as executive producers of Lee Daniels' acclaimed drama Precious).
It's really a simple business decision, and regardless of what you think of Perry's work, the numbers he produces (in terms of audience and earnings) are what ultimately matters.
Earlier today, OWN revealed that it posted double-digit year-over-year ratings gains for the third quarter 2012, in its core demographic of women 25-54, both daytime and primetime, thanks to the success of programming highlights like Oprah's Next Chapter, Welcome to Sweetie Pie's, Iyanla: Fix My Life, and Our America with Lisa Ling.
So why not continue with that momentum, and potentially kill 2 birds with one stone – signing an exclusive content partnership with a content creator who comes with a proven, financially successful track record, while also ensuring that he doesn't eventually become your competition with his own TV network.
It's a smart business move for both sides, as I already laid out above.
OWN is a 24/7 cable TV channel. Aside from a handful of successful original series, like those already mentioned, the network could use some fresh programming – especially scripted programming – to fill hours of time slots, all day, every day.
Also keep in mind that OWN has announced a number of other upcoming new series (although not necessarily scripted) outside of this deal with Tyler Perry.
Recall the story last fall in The Hollywood Reporter, which said that, thanks to the surprising success of Welcome To Sweetie Pie's, executives at OWN believed they could turnaround the fledgling cable channel by setting their sites on a new target audience – African Americans. At the time of that revelation, I joked that OWN would eventually become a black TV network. It's not so funny now, when you look at the network's current, and upcoming lineup of shows, including those that will come from Tyler Perry.
So it shouldn't be a big surprise that the network has decided to nurture that viewership, expanding their options with scripted programming from a successful brand, to add to the reality-based material.
I think Oprah has realized that change your life TV doesn't necessarily sell as well as one might think. It's easier when it's just one show among many other varied shows, on a network (as was the case with The Oprah Winfrey Show, which was an hour of TV, daily, from Monday to Friday). It's a completely different, and much larger animal when it's 24 hours of change your life programming on a single TV network.
There has to be some variety.
In August, Perry announced that he'd be taking an indefinite break from stage work to focus on what he called "some major projects;" he didn't specify, and, at the time, I assumed that one of those major projects would be his new network. But apparently, that wasn't the case.
What I am curious about, which wasn't revealed in the press release, is how long this new agreement between OWN and Tyler Perry is.
Yes he now owns a stake in the network, but given Perry's ambition, it's not completely out of the question that he'd one day want to expand beyond OWN, whether it's with his own network, or something else.
The word "exclusive" is key. It can't be an exclusive to run indefinitely.
Or is there some long term strategy yet to be revealed, that sees Perry's stake in OWN growing over time?
I wish I could read the actual contract that they all signed.
Regardless, in the near term, this appears to be a business win for Oprah, OWN, and Tyler Perry.
Of course, there's still the execution…