It has been a thrilling week in the black entertainment world. The NAACP received a waiver from the Writers Guild of America for its Feb. 14, Image Awards, The Bucket List” starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson opened at No. 1 at $19.5 million and Ice Cube’s new movie First Sunday coming in behind it at No. 2, with $19 million, while Tyler Perry’s House of Payne continues to dominate black households on the cable front. But the most exciting news is that Oprah Winfrey has teamed up with Discovery Communications to form her own television network called OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network.
Scheduled to launch in the second half of 2009 in nearly 70 million households, OWN will is reportedly a 50-50 joint venture that will replace the Discovery Health Channel. The new network will reflect the same themes Winfrey addresses on her daily syndicated talk show and in her monthly magazine: lifestyle, self-help, money, entertainment, and spirituality. Winfrey will have full editorial control.
The move represents Winfrey’s second venture into network ownership; she was an original investor in Oxygen Media, a venture whose board she left shortly after the network’s launch due to creative differences. NBC Universal bought Oxygen last year for $875 million and Winfrey cashed out.
Her foray back into network ownership comes after a year in which the black-owned cable network The Black Family Channel went off the airwaves, as TV One reached more than 40 million homes, as BET introduced new programming and faced criticism for some of its more traditional fare, and as The Africa Channel crossed the 15 million household level as it expanded in the United Kingdom.
Like much of what Winfrey embraces, OWN will target a mainstream audience, but the network’s programming will arguably not alienate black viewers. Interestingly, last fall Nielsen Media Research reported that African American viewers and whites essentially watch the same top-rated primetime TV shows: American Idol Wednesday edition, American Idol Tuesday edition, and Dancing with the Stars.Grey’s Anatomy and CSI: Miami were also in the top 10 in both black and white households. The findings were based on data for the 2006–2007 seasons. Much of this shift in viewership has been attributed to the rise in reality TV, the presence of more blacks in mainstream shows, and the merger of the UPN and WB networks to create the CW, resulting in the cancellation of some black-themed shows.
Needless to say, a lot is expected from anything Winfrey touches. The Oprah Winfrey brand is nothing short of formidable. Not surprisingly, even the talk goddess’s endorsement of presidential candidate Barack Obama’s quest for the White House along with stints on the campaign trail have, in part, been credited with bringing more media attention to the candidate and possibly more votes. With her demonstrated tube and print prowess, there’s little doubt that Winfrey will no doubt once again prove that she’s a woman in a league of her own.