develop a channel and increase the network’s visibility in a three-year, $55 million deal. The result: Oprah & Friends, with roughly 1 million listeners. Added to DirecTV in 2007, it is now carried in 16 million homes. The channel launched in September 2006; at the end of that year, XM’s fourth-quarter reve
nues were up 45% compared with the same quarter the previous year, and the network had almost 2 million more subscribers than at the end of ’05. “It’s one of our top talk shows on the network,” says Davis. “It’s diversified our audience and increased our listenership in the female audience by 10%.”
The radio partnership proved beneficial to Harpo as well. “We were able to get into the radio business,” Bennett says. “This deal with XM allowed us to quietly learn a business that was close to ours, but not a business that we could’ve jumped in with both feet if it were a terrestrial foundation. And we could not have syndicated our shows across the country with no experience in radio.”
The original proposal called for Winfrey to host her own show, but Harpo’s management team saw this as an opportunity to extend the brand without her carrying the full load as talent. They developed the concept of Oprah & Friends, including regular contributors to the TV show who could now host a radio program. In the past 18 months, the “friends” have nearly doubled. Winfrey, who originally handled spot segments, now hosts a half-hour Soul Series segment.
Whether it’s a homegrown venture or a byproduct of partnerships, at the core of each vehicle remains the mission and message found on The Oprah Winfrey Show. “If you pictured a table and it had a pedestal leg in the middle, if you take that leg away the table falls over,” says Bennett. “Each one of these legs we are adding is a foundational element to keeping this table strong. Each one of these legs is adding value to her message, but they’re also adding a financial support system to her company.”
According to Bennett, Harpo follows a “living” business plan that has the fluidity to meet Winfrey’s spiritualism and business temperament. He conducts monthly budget reviews with the management team and, on a quarterly basis, they explore potential business opportunities. Most recently, Winfrey signed a production deal with actress Kirstie Alley to join the already successful roster of Harpo programs. And she is committed to finding a CEO and other management talent for OWN. “That’s my No.1 priority,” she says, having learned from her magazine venture that having the right management in place means the operation will demand less of her time.
Her Webinar with Eckhart Tolle, author of A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, further enlightened her to more dynamic business possibilities, demonstrating that programming less suited for a television audience might find a better fit online. She enthuses: “When I did the Webcast and was Skype-ing (the technology that facilitated the program) with people from all over the