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A Look at the Tyler Perry/Oprah Winfrey TV Partnership 3 Years After It Was Announced…

A Look at the Tyler Perry/Oprah Winfrey TV Partnership 3 Years After It Was Announced...

Over the years, whenever discussions about Tyler Perry’s series on the OWN network are had on this site (as well as on our various social media pages), the vast majority of you claim to be non-viewers; yet each series continues to book record ratings, quarter-over-quarter, clearly attracting new audiences on an ongoing basis.

So if no one is watching, and given that our readership I’d say is quite diverse in terms of content tastes (although I’m also aware that S&A’s readership isn’t fully representative of all of black America), how do you account for the increasing millions of people who make up the audiences that watch and apparently love each of these TV shows?

Clearly, somebody’s watching, especially given last week’s news that OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network broke records on Tuesday night (9/22/15) with the season finale of “The Haves and the Have Nots,” and the anticipated season premiere of “If Loving You is Wrong” – both from Tyler Perry.

The season finale of “The Haves and the Have Nots” was Tuesday night’s #1 cable telecast for W25-54 and total viewers, and the most watched telecast in OWN history. Meanwhile the season premiere of “If Loving You is Wrong” at 10 pm ranked #1 in the time period across all cable in all key demos, according to Nielsen data.

In addition, announced this afternoon via press release from the network, OWN delivered its highest-rated quarter (July through September) and its most-watched quarter in network history in prime and total day, thanks in large part to Tyler Perry’s series. In prime, OWN ranked as the #18 ad-supported cable network for W25-54 – the network’s highest quarterly rank ever (up a whopping +11 spots vs. just a year ago). Additionally, OWN continued to rank as the #1 cable network on Tuesday nights for women overall (not just black women) and was the #1 cable network in prime for African American women. OWN’s quarterly ratings momentum were driven by several original series including the aforementioned “The Haves and the Have Nots” and “If Loving You is Wrong.”

Also, on Saturday nights, “Iyanla: Fix My Life,” “Livin’ Lozada” and “Flex & Shanice” all ranked among the night’s top seven original series on ad-supported cable for W25-54. 

Additionally, OWN had Saturday night’s top four original series on ad-supported cable among African American women: “Iyanla: Fix My Life,” “Livin’ Lozada,” “Flex & Shanice” and “Oprah: Where Are They Now?.” The most recent episode of “Oprah: Where Are They Now?” (9/26) delivered its highest W25-54 rating in over two years. The season finales of “Flex & Shanice” and “Livin’ Lozada” (8/29) were the highest-rated episodes in series history for both shows. 

The new season of “Iyanla: Fix My Life,” which premiered Sept. 19, is up +17% versus the prior season. 

On Friday nights, comedy series “For Better or Worse” another Tyler Perry series was the night’s #1 original series on all of TV among African American women and total viewers in Q3 (July to September). The series, which premiered Sept. 11, has delivered three consecutive weeks of over 1 million viewers. The season average is up a strong +42% vs. the prior season.

And there’s more… but you get the point!

Clearly this is not the OWN that was once practically left for dead a short 4 years ago when it launched and struggled through an early identity crisis. Specifically, recall the story in the fall of 2012 that said, 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 sights on a new target demo – African Americans; i.e. YOU. At the time of that revelation, I teased 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 from Tyler Perry, as well as the upcoming mega-church family drama “Greenleaf” (starring Keith David and Lynn Whitfield); an adaptation of “Queen Sugar,” which Ava DuVernay is developing; a two-night event mini-series, “Tulsa” (working title), to star Octavia Spencer which will tell the story of the largest race riot in U.S. history; and more, including its various reality TV series.

So it shouldn’t be a big surprise that the network has decided to nurture that viewership, expanding their options with scripted and unscripted programming. 

As I’m sure Oprah has learned firsthand and can speak to directly, launching a new network is no small, simple feat. It’s easier when you’re managing a single 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 on a network she didn’t run). It’s a completely different, and much larger animal when one is having to manage (with a team of course) 24 hours of programming on a single TV network that one owns.

You might remember that Tyler Perry initially had plans to launch his own cable TV network (which is all-but-forgotten now). 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 (that was the name being considered for the new network).

Tyler TV is dead, thanks to Perry’s exclusive partnership with OWN. Given his close friendship with Oprah, it wouldn’t surprise me if conversations were had between the two about Oprah’s well-publicized early struggles in running her then new cable TV venture, that eventually discouraged Perry from pursuing his – conversations that may have also included chatter about a potential partnership instead, which was eventually announced, and that would see Perry get a small equity stake in OWN, in addition to a guaranteed future home for all his new TV projects (as we’ve come to see). It was a move that he likely saw as a much lower risk proposition than investing in the restructuring of an existing network.

Three years (October 2012) since the partnership became official, it all now looks like a no-brainer business decision, in hindsight; and regardless of what you may think of Perry’s work, the numbers he produces (in terms of audience and ratings) are what ultimately matters.

It’s proven to be a smart business move for both sides, as I already laid out above – one which was initially 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 who imagined a different brand for OWN, and predicted that Perry’s offerings would be to the network’s detriment. 

Not-so fast my friends…

Three years later, a retooled lineup, growing brand awareness and stickiness, ongoing expansion, double-digit ratings growth and more positives for a very young TV network with so much life still ahead of it, what might OWN look like in another 10 to 20 years? That may be the most exciting part of this ongoing narrative – that which we don’t yet know.

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