Oprah's Network Sees 10 Straight Months Of Growth

January marks Oprah Winfrey Network's second year anniversary. After numerous delays and setbacks, OWN launched in 2011, replacing Discovery Health Channel. Although the cable channel is posting ratings gains, some wonder just how well it is doing.

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Now to television in this country. A joint venture between Oprah Winfrey and Discovery Communications seemed like a perfect TV recipe. But what the Oprah Winfrey Network started serving two years ago has not been very popular. NPR's Lauren Silverman reports the network has revised its programming and is trying to draw viewers in for another sample.

LAUREN SILVERMAN, BYLINE: When Oprah made the switch from syndicated TV show to cable network, fans like Antoinette Powell were supposed to follow.

ANTOINETTE POWELL: I belong to the cult of Oprah.

SILVERMAN: It should have been easy for OWN to reel her in.

POWELL: It's like, oh, it's going to be all Oprah all the time. That's kind of what I thought it was going to be, and it turned out to be just a little different than I thought it would be.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Shania Twain.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Shania Twain.

SILVERMAN: It wasn't just Shania Twain's reality show that was a disappointment for fans like Powell. There was a whole series of shows featuring forgotten celebrities that were all, well, downers.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: There's a lot of resentment.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It's been heartache after heartache.

SILVERMAN: The Judds, the O'Neals - the family feud shows were all failures for the network. But by far, the biggest disaster was "The Rosie Show."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE ROSIE SHOW")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Please help me welcome Rosie!

SILVERMAN: Discovery poured millions into the afternoon talk show. It revamped Oprah's old studio in Chicago, but it never found an audience and was yanked off the air in March. That same month, Oprah laid off 30 employees and fired OWN's CEO.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Is there a bigger embarrassment in the cable television space than the Oprah...

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS BROADCASTS)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It has been a bumpy start for the billionaire queen of daytime TV...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: With Oprah's struggles, whose couch does she sit on?

OPRAH WINFREY: I don't know of a worse week of my entire life.

SILVERMAN: One of the network's biggest problems, according to TV critic Eric Deggans, is that hardcore fans like Antoinette Powell were going through serious Oprah denial.

ERIC DEGGANS: People who watch OWN want to see Oprah. They don't want to see surrogates for Oprah. They don't want to see Oprah's best friends or, you know, celebrity pals. They want to see Oprah.

SILVERMAN: So OWN started new shows featuring Oprah and she made guest appearances in even more. Since then, ratings have started to climb. Exclusive interviews with stars like Rhianna and Justin Beiber pulled in millions of viewers, and the network's seen 10 straight months of growth. But Oprah's magic accounts for only part of OWN's rebound.

TV critic Deggans says the other ingredient is programming that attracts a specific demographic.

DEGGANS: It's obvious that these shows are friendly to African-American females.

SILVERMAN: Deggans is talking about two shows that also debuted last year - "Welcome To Sweetie Pie's"...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "WELCOME TO SWEETIE PIE'S")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: This is the moment I've been waiting for for two years.

SILVERMAN: And "Iyanla: Fix My Life."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "IYANLA: FIX MY LIFE")

IYANLA VANZANT: Just close your eyes for me.

SILVERMAN: These strong black women run businesses and offer advice.

LARRY GERBRANDT: Their greatest success is in targeting 25-54 African-American women.

SILVERMAN: Larry Gerbrandt is an analyst with Media Valuation Partners. He says this forward ratings momentum is likely to continue, especially now that Oprah's tapped media mogul Tyler Perry to create original scripted shows for the network. Discovery is betting Tyler Perry and Oprah, arguably the biggest names in media for African American women, can help OWN recover.

GERBRANDT: They've actually lost substantially more money than they had even originally budgeted. The good news is the network is on target to reach cash flow break even sometime in 2013.

SILVERMAN: That might now sound like great news, but Gerbrandt and Deggans agree, these are normal growing pains for any cable network. The difference is no one expected Oprah to have normal growing pains. Lauren Silverman, NPR News.

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