x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Oprah's TV channel launches

There have been mixed responses to Oprah Winfrey's 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week cable TV channel

Oprah Winfrey's new cable TV network features reality shows and a cookery show.
Oprah Winfrey's new cable TV network features reality shows and a cookery show.

Even taking into account the legions of devoted fans, launching her own 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week television channel was still a bold move for Oprah Winfrey. The stakes are extremely high, yet early opinion suggests that OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) looks set to notch up another success for the media mogul with the Midas touch.

The network debuted on January 1 and preliminary reports released by OWN had viewing figures hovering around the 800,000 mark during the first hour. This number climbed to more than one million later on in the evening, when the reality series Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes aired. These impressive numbers mean that between 8pm and 9pm on January 1, OWN was the third most-watched advertisement-supported cable channel for its target audience (the 25 to 54-year old-demographic).

After three years of planning, Winfrey launched this new network in collaboration with the media company Discovery Communications. In doing so, she made history, becoming the first talk-show host to take over an entire channel. OWN replaces the Discovery Health network and is available in more than 80 million homes in the US. To begin with, Discovery predicted that the channel wouldn't make a profit until 2012 or 2013. After noting the very positive initial viewer response, Brad Singer, the chief financial officer for the company, has said that they now expect to achieve profitability within the year.

Reactions to the network are inevitably rather mixed. It comes as no surprise that Winfrey devotees have been quick to vocalise their support for the new channel. Various internet forums dedicated to the subject are filled with posts professing adoration for the woman herself and the new shows on offer. Not all Winfrey fans are as thrilled, though. A number have expressed disappointment that the channel is not available on basic cable network charges. In order to watch their favourite talk-show host, they will now have to pay extra.

Many critics and media insiders currently seem underwhelmed. Frazier Moore from the Associated Press claimed that the opening few hours felt rather flat, after all the planning and hype, and there have been mumblings that the lack of news focus and the prevalence of feel-good fluff means that the channel is left wanting. TheNew York Times' Alessandra Stanley wrote that "OWN is a place where cynicism takes a holiday and mockery hasn't yet been invented", before going on to suggest that the channel was bereft of necessary bite. In her conclusion, Stanley does admit that it "lives up to the Oprah Winfrey ethos - a 'meaningful, mindful' cable network that seeks its own truth and tries to be its own best self".

Winfrey's live-your-best-life mantra has always formed a key part of her success and as Stanley acknowledges, this ethos is reflected in the programme scheduling. On the official website, Lisa Erspamer, the chief creative officer at OWN, says the network "seeks to entertain, inspire and inform". So what can viewers expect if they tune in? Well, there are programmes fronted by Winfrey herself, such as the aforementioned reality series, which was filmed during the final season of The Oprah Winfrey Show. This is almost guaranteed to be a hit, as is Oprah Presents Master Class, a show where famous faces (or modern masters, as they are described) share life lessons and inspiring stories - Jay-Z kicked things off and in the coming weeks Maya Angelou, Simon Cowell and Condoleezza Rice will make appearances.

Ask Oprah's All Stars sees Dr Phil, Suze Orman and Dr Oz (all familiar faces to Winfrey fans) answering viewers' question on health, wealth and relationships, in front of a live audience. Enough Already! With Peter Walsh features the organisational expert helping people to get rid of their clutter and streamline their lives, and Big Bowl of Love is a cookery show with a family focus. A six-part docu-series (read reality show) will follow Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York and a friend of Winfrey's, apparently rebuilding her life after recent scandal. In April, meanwhile, Why Not? With Shania Twain will premiere on OWN and chart Twain's attempt to relaunch her music career and re-establish herself as the queen of country music.

The OWN network will launch in Canada on March 1. It is unclear whether the channel will become available internationally after that, so for the moment at least, the rest of us will have to wait for our screens to be graced with around-the-clock Winfrey.