An Aha Moment: Oprah Winfrey's OWN Is Finally Profitable

Oprah speaks at the 28th Annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at Nokia Theatre L.A. on Apr. 18, 2013 Photograph by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Oprah Winfrey is a success—again. Winfrey’s OWN network has finally turned a profit this quarter, and it did so earlier than expected. “OWN is now cash-flow positive and starting to pay down the investment Discovery has made in the venture,” Avid Zaslav, chief executive of Discovery Communications, said at an investor conference Tuesday. Discovery co-owns the station with Winfrey and has invested more than $500 million in it over the past few years.

When OWN made its debut in 77 million homes in January 2011, Discovery assumed it would be profitable within one year. But Winfrey’s loyal talk show audience didn’t follow her to the network—last year, the station was attracting an audience one 10th the size of what her syndicated show once brought in—and Discovery hoped instead it would make money by the end of 2013. But despite this initial disappointment, OWN has been climbing steadily in the ratings every year, going from 262,000 prime-time viewers in 2011 to 353,000 in the first half of 2013, according to media services company Horizon Media. That’s a jump of more than 31 percent. Tyler Perry’s two shows, The Haves and the Have Nots and Love Thy Neighbor, fared even better, averaging 1.3 million viewers each, well above OWN’s other programs. Perry has boosted OWN’s ratings nearly 40 percent among women aged 25 to 54, and according to Zaslav, most of the network’s success can be attributed this. During its April upfronts, OWN was able to sign up 30 new advertisers.

With three women watching for every man, OWN’s audience skews slightly more female than Oxygen’s, but significantly less than TLC’s, which is a whopping 77 percent female. (TLC is also owned by Discovery.) In the battle for ratings, OWN still lags behind these two by a few hundred thousand viewers. But it has something the others don’t: the allure of an Oprah Winfrey interview.

Winfrey boosted her network’s ratings with two exclusive interviews, the first with Whitney Houston’s family following her February 2012 death (3.5 million viewers), and the second last January with Lance Armstrong, in which he admitted to doping (4.3 million viewers). With those kind of ratings, maybe someone should give her a talk show.

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