There has been a lot of chatter in TV circles of late about nets reaching out to the female viewer.
NBC Universal established iVillage and acquired Oxygen for $925 million, a network catering to women. Lifetime has made strides in its femme-heavy programming, even snatching “Project Runway” from Bravo.
But there might not be a single more important figure in targeting women than Oprah Winfrey, whose program continues to dominate the talkshow circuit, having been No. 1 for 480 consecutive weeks while averaging 7.2 million viewers per week.
While those numbers are 15% off of last year, Forbes magazine’s most powerful celebrity is drawing more viewers now than five years ago. That’s nearly unprecedented in a TV landscape consistently losing eyeballs to the Internet.
In comparison, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” garners 2.8 million viewers a week. Meanwhile, of Winfrey’s Harpo Prods. proteges’ shows, “Dr. Phil” (6.1 million a week) ranks second, and “Rachael Ray” is performing well. A third Harpo skein, “Dr. Oz,” will arrive in fall 2009.
“Oprah raised the bar to a level that has been tough for others to live up to,” says Terry Wood, president of creative affairs and development at CBS Paramount Distribution. “It made competing TV hosts better because if you had a talkshow, you had to survive in her universe.”
While dominating ratings with her own chatfest, the talkshow host is branching out 24/7 by creating the Oprah Winfrey Network. She recently named Regency TV topper Robin Schwartz as president.
OWN, staffed in Los Angeles, will begin programming in 2009 to 70 million homes. There will also be a significant online and digital presence.
Winfrey currently has a strong radio presence as well, as she is now in the second year of a $55 million, three-year deal with XM Radio. Her channel, Oprah and Friends, offers up discussions on health, fitness and self-improvement.
Winfrey’s ratings and massive popularity have shown a political resonance as well. She actively endorsed Barack Obama early in the U.S. presidential campaign — many called it the O2 effect — and lent out her home to him last year for a fund-raiser.
“I think,” she said to Larry King “that my value to him, my support of him, is probably worth more than any check.”
(Additional reporting by Juliette Fairley.)
Role models: Barbara Walters, Sidney Poitier, Maya Angelou and Nelson Mandela.
Three things in life I can’t do without: “The sunrise, a good book and my dogs.”
What I’m reading now: “A Whole New Mind” by Daniel Pink
Career mantra: “Trust your instincts.”