Q&A: OWN CEO Christina Norman on How Oprah's Tweets Help Drive Ratings

Christina Norman

While there are things to learn from the early days, she says, the Oprah Winfrey Network had a "good" debut quarter in its key target demo and will launch more programming featuring Oprah in September.

NEW YORK -- OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, a joint venture of Discovery Communications and Winfrey, just finished its first quarter on the air.

Christina Norman, CEO of the network, which replaced the Discovery Health Channel, on Wednesday spoke here on a panel at the MediaPost Outfront Conference.

After the panel, she took a few minutes to talk to The Hollywood Reporter about OWN's performance over the first few months and what is up next for the new channel.

THR: How do you feel about your performance to-date?

Norman: The first quarter was good. It is 13 or 14 weeks that we have been on the air. Our upfront is tomorrow. We have grown primetime ratings by 32% since launch. We have launched 14 original series. We got another 25 to come before the end of the year. We're learning more and more every day about the audience, what works and what they like and don't like.

THR: Some people have said your ratings haven't been that good. What are they missing?

Norman: We are obviously talking about our core audience -- women 25-54. That is who we are primarily focused on. I think the brand is bigger than that. We are talking about the time slots that we are programming. Primetime is where we are putting most of our effort and energy. It's 13 weeks in. If anybody wants to write the story now about what it means and where it is, that's a little premature, and we are trying to stick to our knitting and keep our goals in mind and keep looking forward.

THR: What do they like?

Norman: They like The Judds. 1.7 million people watched that when it premiered on Sunday. That was a nice moment for us. And Oprah is not really on the network yet if you think about it. We've got Rosie [O'Donnell] coming, we've got Oprah coming. We've got more series: a show with Shania Twain, the O'Neals, which will be interesting, and we got non-celebrity stuff. We are announcing a bunch of stuff tomorrow and really trying to take it in, figure out what it means and then be smart and reactive about it.

THR: Any particular lessons or interesting things you have found?

Norman: One thing that's really interesting for us is to see how Oprah's social media profile has grown. She has been twittering for the past couple of Sundays, and the world likes to tweet with Oprah. Of course, they don't think it's her, but they love that.

THR: So is Oprah tweeting herself?

Norman: It's really her. It's actually really her.

THR: People said at least on the first Sunday that the tweeting helped drive viewership. Does it?

Norman: It seems to. It really did. The Judds were the No. 1 social media trend for television this past weekend, and that did really translate into ratings, so it does feel like you can't just rely on one thing. You have to use everything in very different ways. We had the Judds on talk radio in addition to television and then all the social media we did with them. I think that's what's pretty fascinating about right now.

THR: You started with big advertising partners. Where do you stand on ad partnerships? Any new marketers?

Norman: We have massive launch partners who have signed up for multiple years. Managing those relationships is a lot -- everybody from GM to P&G to Kohl's. With some of our partners, we have already gone through a big integration. So, now is an opportunity to say how did that work, what do you guys want to do differently going forward. And for some of them we have barely gotten started. We got Target and Walmart. We're still working on programs with them that will come later in the year. And we can use them as marketing partners for us. It's scratching the surface of where we are. But we have started to sign on some new advertisers for sure. But what's really exciting is that people believe in this brand, they believe in what we are doing and they believe now is the time to do it.

THR: So when will Oprah have a bigger presence on the network after her syndicated talk show ends?

Norman: In September, she will be on the network. And she has been on the network with Behind the Scenes. But new stuff is coming with her in September.

THR: Any details you can share?

Norman: [doesn't immediately answer]

THR: Tomorrow?

Norman: Yeah.