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PASADENA — Oprah Winfrey has created a multibillion-dollar media empire — and amassed a personal fortune along the way. But she admits that there could be some speed bumps ahead for her just-launched cable network OWN.
“I think we’re going to have some perhaps rocky times with the channel, keeping people there and keeping people motivated to keep watching, keeping them engaged,” she said.
OWN launched Jan. 1 after a three-year gestation period and at a cost of nearly $200 million. It is a process that Winfrey, addressing critics at the Television Critics Assn. press tour here, described as “heady.”
“Taking the responsibility of programming even the first 600 hours,” she said. “It’s a lot. And knowing that half of what we’re doing is not going to work, then what? But it’s an ongoing process, and I trust the process.”
OWN averaged 1 million viewers in primetime for its Jan. 1 launch, and while it has declined somewhat since then, it’s managed to sustain respectable tune-in. Christina Norman, CEO of OWN, said the network’s ratings goals are to “consistently double the ratings of Discovery Health,” the network it replaced. (For 2010, Discovery Health averaged 148,000 viewers in daytime and 252,000 in primetime.)
Winfrey’s programming mandate is good-energy TV. “There’s not going to be one thing [on OWN] that causes you to not sleep at night,” she said.
And she’s committed to listening to her viewers; she read 200 pages of the 866 pages of comments after the launch, she said.
“I’m grateful we weren’t embarrassed,” she added. “I’m grateful people came. Obviously, ratings are important. But they’re not as important to me as they are to you,” she told reporters. “We know that if we continue to build the channel with programs that are meaningful to our viewers … and operating from the point of view of, how are we going to serve [the audience], I think we’ll be more than all right. You serve them and they will come.”
It was Winfrey’s first appearance at the semi-annual TCA confab, and at times it felt more like a quasi-religious seminar with besotted reporters querying Winfrey about her hopes and dreams and when she first “fell in love with herself.” Answer: “I am not in love with myself.”
“I can just see that in print: Oprah fell in love with herself at the age of 49,” joked Winfrey.
She also asserted that she is not “enamored and dazzledwith this whole idea of fame” and money is something to be used constructively.
“I think it’s fun,” she continued. “It’s a really cool thing. It’s nice to be able to get what you want to get and all that stuff. The more you have, the more you realize that [money’s] true purpose is to serve a root to life. So it doesn’t do you any good if you can’t use it to bring more love and understanding. Otherwise you just have a closet full of shoes.”
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