Oprah Effect impacts music sales

Chatshow host tunes in with CD picks

If, as current conventional wisdom maintains, “TV is the new radio” in terms of influencing record sales, then “The Oprah Winfrey Show” is the equivalent of a 100,000-watt Mexican border radio station.

This fall, Winfrey’s popular afternoon talker, which claims an average daily viewership of 6.2 million, played a key role in sending new CD titles to the top slot of the U.S. album charts.

Oprah’s Book Club, which has pushed new and even backlist titles up the bestseller list, has wielded the same kind of retail clout.

Call it “the Oprah Effect.” And everyone in music covets it.

“We receive hundreds, if not thousands, of music pitches with CDs every year,” says a spokeswoman for Harpo Prods., Winfrey’s production company. “Generally, we invite fairly well-established musicians on the show…. Sometimes, it just comes down to the right artist at the right time with the right song.” In mid-October, Canadian vocalist Michael Buble’s album “Crazy Love” debuted at No. 1 with 132,000 copies sold in just three days. His label, Warner Bros., had moved the release up to Oct. 9 to coincide with Buble’s appearance on Winfrey’s telecast.

“It had massive impact,” says Warner Bros. chief operating officer and Reprise Records president Diarmuid Quinn. “The thing about Oprah is, her audience follows what she endorses more than anyone else we’ve ever seen.… She has this validity you don’t see any more.”

On the heels of her “Oprah” appearance in late September, Barbra Streisand scored her first chart-topping album in 12 years when “Love is the Answer” bowed at the apex with first-week sales of 180,000.

Labels have also increasingly looked to Winfrey’s program to heighten the visibility of their biggest acts. Whitney Houston’s Sept. 14-15 shot on the show sparked a 77% increase in sales of her comeback album “I Look to You.”

Keith Caulfield, senior chart analyst at the music trade magazine Billboard, observes: “In this state of the industry, with how difficult it is to reach and motivate consumers, there are only a few places that guarantee home runs. ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ is one of them.”

Caulfield notes that in the publication’s recent “Maximum Exposure” list of the top 100 ways to get one’s music in the public eye, Winfrey’s show rated second, behind an Apple TV spot.

Winfrey’s influence extends beyond the sale of new albums by major contemporary stars.

Quinn says the developing artist Charice sold 60,000 singles behind an appearance on the show. And Caulfield points out that veteran rock band Journey moved 10,000 copies – a 681% week-to-week increase – of its year-old album “Revelation” after an Oct. 5 guest shot.

“Oprah is the one thing everyone wants,” he adds. “If you get that call back from her production people, my God, it’s the Holy Grail.”

So can the music business look forward to Oprah’s Music Club? “Not at this time,” the Harpo publicist says.

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