So there we were, finally, entering Oprah’s studio. I’m not sure what I was expecting. Given the buzz and enthusiasm that people had shared with me leading up to the evening, I suppose a bolt of lightning as I walked through the door would have been in order.
Seeing Oprah, in-studio, up close and personal is considered a once in a lifetime opportunity. Unfortunately, I’m not much of a star-gazer. So, yes, respect for the woman and all her accomplishments for sure, but crazy, frantic OMG it’s her, is not really my style.
Over-the-top excitement would have been inappropriate anyhow given we were not there as spectators, we were there to do a job. The goal was to spread content from Oprah’s Life Class onto the internet. As for the content we spread, there were lots of great quotes that came out of Oprah’s Life Class. You can probably still see the twitter feed somewhere or maybe you even followed it that Friday night, but for this blog I want to talk about the business perspective of Oprah’s Life Class and the OWN Network.
It is no surprise that Oprah went in the Life Class direction. Think of the self-help industry gurus – the Anthony Robbins and Dr. Phil’s of the world – they have made millions helping people create better lives. Why wouldn’t Oprah, a woman who has lived the Amercian dream and is the envy of so many people, jump on the self-help gravy train.
I’m actually expecting that they’ll find a way to repurpose the life-lessons and turn those products into another multi-million dollar enterprise. The journals are coming and were included when you registered online, but imagine the 25 Lessons book, ebook, audio recording, online coaching program, paid membership forum. There are so many possibilities to monetize the 25 Lessons from 25 Years in television it would be a shame for her to waste it.
The most difficult way to monetize the life class, in my opinion, is on a cable network. Hear me out.
On several occasions Oprah asked the audience (which people watching the show online would have heard) to encourage their friends and family to watch the OWN Network. The overall theme was they need the viewers to get the ratings to get advertisers to make the money. Once she even hinted that all the online viewers didn’t matter without the revenue from the TV – that’s backward thinking for 2011.
It felt like Oprah was really being authentic in her request, but through her game face, I interpreted disappointment of a network that is not getting the traction she would have hoped. This shouldn’t be a reflection on Oprah and her skills as a business woman; it’s a reflection on the changing times.
When I left for Chicago the majority of those I talked with weren’t even aware that Oprah had a new show, let alone a television network. The first question was, “What channel?” If you aren’t sure either, please visit www.Oprah.com and use the channel finder tool on the right sidebar. The tool works in Canada too. Some pages you’ll find it at the top, on others it’s buried at the bottom.
The second question was often, “How do we watch the show if we don’t have cable?” Which brings me to the reason I am not convinced the OWN Network will have the same success as Oprah’s other ventures.
With the uncertain economy and job loss, ditching a cable subscription is an easy way to save a hundred bucks a month. Everything is available online and so why would you spend the money if you don’t need to? Even one of the live tweeters at the show didn’t have cable. Here’s an article from Economy Watch that references the slowing cable trend. It’s easy to imagine this trend will continue on a downward spiral.
Oprah’s team has done a fantastic job of incorporating technologies and building an online community for the life classes – that’s what needs to be monetized. Making a fuss about getting viewership on television is an equivalent to trying to push a marshmallow into a piggy-bank.
Why not monetize everything online? Check out her website: Where are the advertisers? Where are the corporate sponsors? Where is the digital marketing strategy? It’s the same principle of the newspapers. If publishers resisted the reality of today and were expecting their printed editions to carry the entire ship, they’d be out of business. They were forced to shift their perspective and monetize the online portals. Huffington Post is a great example of embracing the technologies of today.
Even if you wanted to get the traction with viewers on television, how can one reasonably expect to do that with the forum chosen?
Momentum takes time – it can’t be built in 5 weeks to the same level that was created over 25 years. There’s not enough time in between classes for viewers to reach out and include their friends. Recognizing that Oprah wanted to get off camera, maybe the decision was made to cram five life classes a week in five weeks so they could speed up the process of getting through 25 classes.
In terms of commitment, that’s just over-the-top. Who can manage a life class every night for 5 weeks? The extra committed ones for sure, but the rest of us? That’s asking a lot.
This show is intended to change people’s lives. To do that, it needs to be an interactive experience; it’s not the same as passively watching the old Oprah show to be entertained. People need to process the information and apply it to their own lives and then come back for more. At least that’s what the adult learning experts tell me.
Imagine the difference if the Life Classes were weekly. Oprah Life Class groups could be popping up all over the world. Having weekly gatherings with like-minded friends and creating Oprah Support Teams would give it more traction and more impact. Team photos could be posted in the online forum which would encourage other teams to be created because everyone loves their moment in the spotlight.
Teams could reach out in their communities as they put the life lessons to work each week. They could literally take the “Joy Rising” message and create joy together. This could create more local media coverage and interaction. Again raising the buzz, directing more eyeballs to the television (it’s tough for a handful of people to gather around a computer screen) and generate a groundswell of support.
The other challenge is the timing. How do you capture the mom market with an 8:00PM time slot? What are mom’s doing at 8:00 PM? They are certainly not sitting down in front of the computer or television reflecting on their own life’s goals – they’re distracted by their families or trying to catch their breath from another hectic day. A quick survey of my friends and it was clear that nightly at 8:00PM was the wrong time for them to participate and carve out some “me” time. Again, the most committed fans could pull it off, but the momentum needs time to build. Convincing your family to extend mommy time every night for five weeks sounds impossible. (I don’t have the good fortune of children yet so I’m just going by others’ comments)
Going live on the OWN Network at 8:00 on a Friday night was an even more confusing decision. Why? What are people doing at 8:00 on a Friday night? The night I was there it was the World Series game. No wonder getting traction on and offline felt pretty difficult that night. Even Melissa, who has an extremely active and engaged following on Twitter with @TimeOutMom, was not getting the kind of traction she normally would. Wouldn’t an early week time slot be more convenient? Granted, self-growth is never convenient, but why not make it accessible?
The saying, what got you here won’t get you there comes to mind. While Oprah was able to reach millions of viewers daily at 4:00 PM on a National network that was included in your basic cable package during a time that people’s only option was cable, now the world has shifted.
It’s impossible to transfer the celebrity of a show to a network and hope people will tune in just because the network is owned by Oprah. Even her magazine, though it’s packed full of content from various contributors, readers pick it up because it feels like another connection to the icon. Watching other shows on the network owned by her doesn’t have the same flare. Who knows, maybe the new Rosie Show will give it the kick it needs to get the television traction. Again, they’ve chosen a 6:00PM timeslot. Who’s watching TV at 6?
It will be interesting to see how they approach the second season of Oprah’s Life Class in 2012. If you haven’t caught it yet, and you don’t have plans this Friday night, check out the OWN Network and watch the show. This will be the 25th Life Class. I would love to hear what you think.