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OWN Delivers Most-Watched Year in Network History, Giving BET & TV One Competition

OWN Delivers Most-Watched Year in Network History, Giving BET & TV One Competition

OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network closed out 2015 as its most-watched year in network history, achieving its 4th consecutive year of double-digit growth in total viewers in primetime (up 13% with 487,000 total viewers). 

2015 was also the network’s best year ever and fourth year of growth in the key W25-54 (Women 25-54) demo (up 10% vs. 2014). 

OWN’s W25-54 primetime average ranked #25 among ad-supported cable networks, up 4 spots vs. 2014. 

OWN is the fastest growing top 25 ad-supported cable network in primetime among W25-54, and is one of only two ad-supported cable networks to have achieved double-digit growth in total viewers in each of the past four years. 

Additionally, OWN was the #2 cable network in primetime among African American women.

For 2015, OWN was the #1 cable network for women and the #1 network on all of TV among African American women and total viewers on Tuesday nights. Popular Tuesday night series “The Haves and the Have Nots” and “If Loving You is Wrong,” from Tyler Perry, both ranked among the top seven original scripted series on ad-supported cable for W25-54, and were primetime’s top two original cable series among African American women. Both series ranked among Tuesday night’s top three original cable series for W25-54 and W18+ and were Tuesday night’s top two original series on all of TV among African American women and total viewers.

OWN was Saturday night’s #2 network on all of TV among African American women. Saturdays on OWN yielded the top nine original series on ad-supported cable (non-sports) among all African American women. These popular series included: “Iyanla: Fix My Life,” “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s,” “Legends: OWN at the Apollo,” “Livin’ Lozada,” “Raising Whitley,” “Flex & Shanice,” “2 Fat 2 Fly,” “Deion’s Family Playbook” and “Oprah: Where Are They Now?”

Additionally, on Friday nights, OWN was the #2 cable network among African American women. Comedy series “For Better or Worse” and “Love Thy Neighbor,” both from Tyler Perry, ranked among Friday night’s top three original cable series for African American women.

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 consider the above data from the network summarizing 2015. Also, consider the upcoming lineup of new shows that will debut on the network in the next year, including: the mega-church family drama “Greenleaf” (starring Keith David and Lynn Whitfield); an adaptation of “Queen Sugar,” which Ava DuVernay is shepherding; a two-night event mini-series, “Tulsa” (working title), to star Octavia Spencer that will tell the story of the largest race riot in U.S. history; and more, including some new 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 now owns.

You might remember that Tyler Perry initially had plans to launch his own cable TV network. 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, which they inked 3 years ago. 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 – one which was initially met with a lot of disconcerted voices. 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, with a retooled lineup, attracting new talent, ongoing expansion, growing brand awareness and stickiness, double-digit ratings growth and more positives for what is really a very young TV network (compared to those that had long been around before it launched) and so much life still ahead of it, what might OWN look like in another 5, 15, 10 or 20 years? That may be the most exciting part of this ongoing narrative – that which we don’t yet know. 

Oprah may not call it a “black TV network” but OWN is certainly now competing directly for eyeballs with the likes of BET and TV One, seemingly making strides that the other 2 (both much older brands) are themselves only starting to – the kind of strides that will make any network competitive with those that compete for Emmys every year. Obviously it takes a decided investment in original content; just look at what Netflix has been able to accomplish in really just the 3 to 4 years since it got into the original programming business. They spent, and spent some more, and plan to continue to spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year on original content. But it’s certainly paying off – at least it looks to be, based on what they tell us, and also the fact that they continue to spend. Amazon is now doing the same thing, even getting into feature film production and distribution as well. I’m not privy to the inside workings of BET or TV One, so I can’t comment on whether it’s a question of a lack of financing that will allow them to take risks and fund new work that will attract new audiences, and compete during awards season, or if it’s a question of will/desire.

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