Today marks the end of an era. After 25 years of groundbreaking television work, Oprah Winfrey is saying goodbye to her weekly audience of 44 million viewers. Since its launch in 1986, The Oprah Winfrey Show has transformed daytime television. Initially debuting in last place, the show eventually went on to become one of the highest rated talk shows in American history. On the way to that milestone, Winfrey became the first African American woman to achieve billionaire status and even earned an Oscar nomination for her role in Steven Spielberg’s The Colored Purple. Although her popular show is coming to end, the multimedia mogul doesn’t stop as she continues to build her brand with Harpo Films, Oprah Radio, O Magazine and her last endeavor, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). BlackEnterprise.com decodes Winfrey’s brand, influence and legacy.
THE BILLION-DOLLAR WOMAN
Very few people will earn a billion dollars in their lifetime, let alone an African American woman, but Winfrey achieved that feat twice over with an estimated net worth of $2.7 billion. Forbes ranks her as the third most powerful woman in the world, No. 420 on the world’s list of billionaires and the No. 135 ranked billionaire in the United States. Oprah’s money, power and respect all spawn from her extended run as host of The Oprah Winfrey Show, which drew a season high 9 million viewers in the 2004-2005 season. Her sphere of influence transcends television into the worlds of print (O Magazine), radio (Oprah Radio), film (Harpo Films) and even social media, where @Oprah boasts close to 6 million followers.
With the introduction of the Oprah Book Club, Winfrey is often credited with singlehandedly reviving the American publishing industry. According to Nielsen BookScan, Winfrey is directly responsible for more than 22 million books sold. Her publishing impact is actually much greater but the tracking service, which started in 2001, doesn’t have stats on releases prior to that and only recorded 27 of Oprah’s overall 65 picks (Winfrey book club editions only). Over the course of its 14-year run, the book club created instant bestsellers of titles like Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth (3.4 million copies), James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces (2.7 million copies) and Auschwitz survivor Elie Wiesel’s Night (2 million copies).
THE BIG PAYBACK
In 1997, Oprah’s Angel Network launched as a campaign that encouraged viewers to collect spare change, but evolved into a network of giving that extended to 30 countries around the world. To date the organization has built 55 schools in 12 countries; donated over $1 million of supplies to 18,000 South African children; relocated more than 1,000 Gulf Coast families to their homes after Hurricane Katrina; and awarded grants and scholarships for various causes. Although the charity was shut down last year, Winfrey continues to operate two private philanthropy organizations—the Oprah Winfrey Foundation and the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, which ranked Winfrey as No. 25 on their annual Philanthropy 50, she donated more than $41 million to charity last year.
THE MIDAS TOUCH
Experts call it “the Oprah Effect.” Just a mention on The Oprah Winfrey Show or in O Magazine has been shown to be game changing for a struggling retailer or modest size small business. CNBC produced an entire segment about the craze, including the success story of Lisa Price and her business Carol’s Daughter, which was catapulted to from $2 million to $20 million in sales after a 2002 feature on Oprah. Similarly, after one of Winfrey’s producers sampled the key lime bundt cake from Fort Lauderdale bakery We Take the Cake and Oprah mentioned it as one of her “favorite things,” the struggling business was transformed. For two straight weeks after the segment aired, the phone rang around the clock. Sales quickly doubled and the company now makes wedding cakes for hotels that range from $5,000 to $20,000. Forget Midas, Oprah has her own golden touch.
Did Oprah Winfrey elect President Barack Obama in to the White House? Economists at the University of Maryland conducted a study to assess her impact on the 2008 election and found that the media mogul was responsible for roughly 1,015,559 votes. Winfrey’s support of the then-senator started early on as Obama first appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show back in 2006 to promote his book, The Audacity of Hope. The following year she held a fundraiser for him at her home in Chicago and attended the Democratic Convention in August 2008. She even joined Obama on the campaign trail in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. With Winfrey as a major endorser, Obama saw the full (Oprah) effect of her influence.
SHOW ME THE MONEY
The Oprah Winfrey Show changed the landscape of talk shows and drew millions of viewers in each week, who would linger on for the local news broadcasts, driving up revenue from ad sales. This audience came with a high price tag. According to Broadcasting and Cable, WABC-TV in New York paid $270,000 per week just to carry the show and Chicago’s WLS-TV paid about $225,000 per week. Although average viewership slipped under 7 million in the 2008-2009 season—down 7-percent from the year prior—Winfrey still maintained her status as the No. 1 talk show. While her current audience average is estimated at 6.5 million viewers, generating about $260 million in revenue. Today’s series finale stands as the Super Bowl of talk shows with the asking price for a 30-second ad is $1 million.