Later today Oprah Winfrey plans to make public the announcement she made to her staff Thursday: “Oprah” will end its broadcast TV run in 2011 and she will concentrate her efforts on OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network), a new cable network. Oprah is making a mistake! She should have gone direct-to-net.
First, a few givens. The local stations that currently run her show will be the biggest losers. Oprah has delivered killer lead-ins to local news for years. Oprah’s influence has been so strong it’s rumored many stations run the show as a loss leader knowing they’ll make it up during the news.
Second, Oprah will move to a new cable channel with no track record and currently no clearances. She will be on a channel t-b-a, but certainly not with the dial position and complementary programming (and promotion) she currently has.
As much as is possible when you’re the world’s best known TV host, Oprah will start from zero.
Establishing a new cable channel, even for someone of Oprah’s stature and means will not be easy. If anyone can make this a success she can, but there’s much more room for success if Oprah had blazed the path to direct Internet distribution.
To more and more people the Internet is a perfectly acceptable substitute for TV. With the ubiquity of high speed Internet picture quality is no longer a real concern. Hulu and Netflix have shown that. Even Youtube is getting ready to deliver HD quality videos.
Bandwidth costs, the deciding factor on video quality, continue to drop.
Going on the Internet gives Oprah a boatload of options.
- The show could be served both live and on-demand to multiple platforms at multiple bandwidths.
- Live events could be covered live without any worry about interfering with other scheduled programming. Imagine Oprah at the Oscars or at any compatible event.
- Recorded shows could be served full and as smaller mini-episodes.
- No need to share revenue with a cable channel or cable operators (by way of local spot breaks).
- The total control that the Internet affords would allow more creative viewer interaction and sponsor opportunities. Spots don’t have to be the end all be all anymore.
- The audience could be expanded to reach more working women via office computers and smartphone apps
My friend Brian Lapis points out Howard Stern’s diminution of reach and power since leaving terrestrial radio for Sirius. Stern went to a technology with a small installed base and then hid behind a paywall. Oprah doesn’t need to do that. I believe she can reach more people over the long run via the Internet than she could on TV simply by making herself available at more times and on more platforms.
Only Oprah could make this choice and produced an immediate impact. Only Oprah could immediately make the Internet a viable platform for modern day broadcasting.