Weight Watchers Surges as Oprah Helps Boost New Subscribers

Oprah

Oprah Winfrey has helped promote Weight Watchers since investing in the business last year.

Photographer: Gilbert Carrasquillo/FilmMagic

Weight Watchers International Inc. soared as much as 16 percent after posting a rebound in subscribers, a sign its high-profile partnership with Oprah Winfrey is paying off.

The weight-loss program’s subscribers climbed 5 percent globally to 3.1 million by the end of the first quarter, following years of declines, according to a statement on Wednesday. The New York-based company also reported a narrower quarterly loss than analysts had predicted, and it boosted its annual forecast.

Weight Watchers has seen a surge in publicity since October, when Winfrey agreed to buy a stake in the company and help advertise the business. Since then, she’s tweeted about her weight loss and released a video that featured a surprise appearance at a Weight Watchers member meeting in New York. The buzz appears to be working: In North America, subscribers jumped 11 percent last quarter.

“Our first-quarter loss was smaller than we expected, and for the first time since 2012 we grew our total subscribers year-over-year, clearly demonstrating that our business is turning around,” Chief Executive Officer Jim Chambers said in the statement.

Weight Watchers shares climbed as high as $14.58 after the results were released late Wednesday. The stock was already up 48 percent over the past 12 months, helped by the agreement with Winfrey.

In March, Weight Watchers said Winfrey had generated 1 billion free media impressions for the company. That advertising would have cost Weight Watchers as much as $17.5 million, according to Apex Marketing Group Inc.

Weight Watchers lost 17 cents a share in the first quarter. That’s less red ink than the 18 cents analysts had projected. It now expects earnings of 80 cents to $1.05 a share, up from a previous forecast of 70 cents to $1.

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