Sweetie Pie’s is saving Oprah Winfrey’s television network.
Actually, a more strategic effort to offer exclusive black programming is significantly boosting ratings for OWN, Winfrey’s struggling two-year-old network that has caused major headaches for executives of Discovery Communications, the company that leveraged a reported $300 million to get OWN up and running.
But today, OWN is undergoing a diverse television transformation and the numbers indicate that more black folks are watching OWN simply because Oprah has more black folks on the network to watch.
This is no coincidence.
As a result of programs like “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s” (734,000 viewers) “Iyanla: Fix My Life” (742,000 viewers) and high-profile guests including Whitney Houston’s daughter, Bobbi Kristina (3.5 million viewers), pop star Rihanna, (2.5 million) and Usher, (1.5 million) OWN has benefited from the incorporation of more black shows and has attracted a much larger African American female audience.
OWN is now experiencing its third consecutive quarter of ratings growth for the recently ended third quarter as Winfrey is gradually turning the network around.
And OWN is not the only network to benefit from the African American audience. MSNBC recently reported a huge increase in its overall ratings, a 20% increase, in 2012, and a staggering 60.5% increase specifically among black viewers during the past year. MSNBC leads CNN and Fox News with black viewership.
Meanwhile at OWN, Winfrey announced an exclusive deal with Tyler Perry to produce scripted shows for OWN, that include the drama series “The Have and the Have Nots,” and the comedy “Love Thy Neighbor,” both of which are scheduled to premiere during late May.
So why didn’t Oprah get with the black programming concept from the beginning?
In hindsight, it’s perhaps the best decision she has made to salvage her network. And she’s combining old-school programming with a state-of-the-art network.
“Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s” is OWN’s sleeper hit about a black family that owns one of most popular soul food restaurants in St. Louis.
Robbie Montgomery, the restaurant owner, toured with Ike and Tina Turner as one of the original backup singers in the 1960s. But when her lung collapsed and she could no longer sing, Montgomery took up cooking, mastered her mother’s soul food recipes, and opened “Sweetie Pie’s.”
In addition to “Sweetie Pie’s,” Iyanla Vanzant is also racking up ratings on OWN with her new talk show, which is aimed at issues around broken families, love lives, personal mistakes, and family secrets.
“They call this a show, but I’m calling it a workshop,” Vanzant said. “I believe that the wounds that cut us the deepest and hurt the most are inflicted by the ones that we love,” Vanzant says. “I’m here for one purpose — to support us in remembering the truth of who we are.”
Winfrey’s partnership with Perry is a smart business move. In 2010, the New Yorker magazine called Perry “the most financially successful black person the American film industry has ever known.”
“I have been looking forward to the day when we would be in the position to enter the world of scripted television. That day has come,” Winfrey said in a statement. “We are all energized by the opportunity to collaborate with Tyler who has a proven track record for producing highly successful cable series. He has an incredible ability to illuminate life stories and characters in his unique voice and inspires and encourages people all over the world.”
OWN needs to attract a younger, broader audience and Perry can make that happen. TBS has seen huge ratings increases from Perry’s popular shows, “House of Payne,” “Meet the Browns,” and “For Better or Worse.” While these shows will remain on TBS, his new programs will switch to OWN.
“OWN executives can now make the case that with a couple of Perry shows in the pipeline, a bigger, younger, more passionate audience is finally just around the corner,” according to Bloomberg Business News.
“It’s a dream realized to partner with Oprah and bring scripted programming to OWN,” Perry said in a statement. “She has accomplished so much with the network and I’m excited to work with her to be a part of its continued growth.”
For now, it appears that OWN is experiencing a ratings bonanza, which is clearly the result of ample black programming and entertaining black shows that resonate with a sizable African American audience.