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Three steps to fix Oprah’s OWN Network

It’s no secret that since Oprah tried to spin The Oprah Show cache into the OWN Network things have not exactly gone to plan as slapping her name on the network hasn’t brought success or huge ratings.  It has been painful to watch (literally) as this beloved global brand has started to crumble. Recently my wife and I have had a number of conversations about how to fix this mess that I wanted to share because she came up with a lot of good thinking and there is a lesson to be learned here for all consumer brands. So Oprah if you are out there – here are our completely unsolicited thoughts on how to get your network back on track.

Step 1.) Understand your brand – brand name vs. lifestyle brand

For starters OWN needs to take a step back and really understand what made Oprah such a powerful brand to begin with.  Like any great brand Oprah created an emotional connection with people and at it’s best it was like a perfume tear sheet/ad in a magazine. When someone smells a perfume or cologne they really like they want to own it, love it and even become the embodiment of what that scent, brand or celebrity represents. That same thinking applies to the power of Oprah’s brand since people see parts of themselves in her brand and they react to that by wanting to own all of her favorite things, get smarter by reading her books and improve themselves through her adviser’s guidance. All of this made Oprah into a powerful lifestyle brand but the new OWN network has completely misunderstood all of this. They seem to think that the consumers connected with her as only as a brand name and that by slapping that brand name on a new channel people would come running. We have seen that isn’t the case and it is because the programming is only brand name programming that has broken the brand connection with the viewer.  So all the reasons why consumers connected with the brand are gone – thus the viewers are now gone as well.

Step 2.) It’s all about content, content, content

Right now their strategy is to get Oprah herself on the channel as much as possible so it’s all Oprah all the time. They need to rebuild their brand through a number of different programming tracks BUT those programs all need to fall under the aspiring and empowering brand values that consumers connected with in the past. Right now all their shows have disconnected from those brand values.

They are currently trying to get Oprah herself into as many shows as possible like on “Oprah’s Next Chapter’ which almost completely focus on what Oprah is doing since she shut down her network show or has her doing news magazine style interviews.  The problem with this type of content is that they aren’t giving people any of the aspiring or empowering brand values they are looking for.  I don’t want to watch a mediocre interview where George Lucas bitches about how hard his life is because his fans don’t love that he made three boring new Star Wars movies and won’t stop messing with the original ones.  I want to hear something interesting, inspiring, empowering or something that I can use to make my life better.  That is why people have bonded with the Oprah brand and they can’t find that content or emotional connection anywhere in her new shows. The rest of the programming line-up is filled with shows like ‘Unfaithful: Stories of Betrayal’ and ‘Facing Trauma’ which focus on negative events and do not fulfill the lifestyle brand promise her brand consumers are looking for.

So here are a few simple ideas for shows that would help shift the brand back to the positioning that made it so successful with content based on the original Oprah Winfrey show.

The Favorite Things Show

In terms of ideas this is low hanging fruit since it was one of the most popular shows she would do all year. The concept from the show could be reimagined into a weekly show highlighting different products from small, semi-unknown companies in fashion, travel, food, wine, gadgets, etc., the back story on their creators and tell people what is different and special about them.  Then use the interest and momentum created by the show to drive consumers onto a special Oprah web site where they can buy the featured product.  By highlighting small brands you are showing consumer useful items they can’t get at the local Target, the OWN brand becomes a trusted advisor and (best of all) the show can bring in revenue by selling limited numbers of the items through the OWN web site. You could even keep the same giveaway angle as the old show through social media where one lucky viewer would win everything on the show for posting to Facebook or Tweeting a certain hash tag. The end result would be like a mash-up of, QVC and an Apple product launch.

The Oprah Project

One of the greatest thing Oprah was able to do with her show was that she was able to shine the light on causes that needed attention and support to create a positive change for that cause.  This show could follow projects as large some of the celebrity philanthropic missions like Brad Pitt’s work in New Orleans but would be better served to do smaller, community focused groups.  They could create is around a viewer interaction model like the Pepsi Refresh Project where the world can vote on what projects get chosen and then the show report on the finalists, the winners, their progress and how the donations made a difference.  It creates a deep sense of involvement for the viewer, supports the empowerment brand positioning and creates actual change in the world.

Step 3.) Create the first true multi-channel brand experience

Oprah is not a one dimension brand with one dimension touch points and they need to remember that. Every print magazine’s tablet application is nothing more than a reformatted version of the print publication with a little video content and a few interactive ads sprinkled in. At the same time every major and cable networks tablet application is nothing more than a video and news clip aggregator. Looking at those two facts does anyone else think there might be a the huge opportunity for someone who happens to have their own magazine and TV network to create a breakthrough consumer experience? OWN needs to be the first brand to combine the two and create a tablet application that is both a compelling second screen experience for the OWN Network with interactive extension of the Oprah magazine. By combining the two together they can create a richer application with deeper consumer engagement, drive up sell between the two channels as well as offset some of the development costs by only have to create one app instead of two.

I have worked in this industry long enough to know there are no quick fixes for problems like these but my hope is that the network can take a step back, understand what made their brand so great and then start to look at how to construct programming and experience that will give the viewers what it is they are looking for again before it is too late.


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