Oprah Winfrey told the cable industry this morning that the launch of her OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network was filled with “bumps” in part because “I was all in with one foot out the door” as she finished the final season of her syndicated talk show. But she assured operators that she now has “the ability to commit my full energy, feet first, body immersed” with her staff “completely 100% (committed) to the OWN mission.” Winfrey’s first appearance at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s annual trade show came at a time when she desperately needs the industry’s support. Many operators have wondered how much distribution, promotion, and financial support to offer OWN. Winfrey’s much-ballyhooed joint venture with Discovery Communications replaced Discovery Health in January, but wasn’t able to improve on its ratings. Last month Winfrey and Discovery dumped Christina Norman as OWN’s CEO and gave Discovery COO Peter Ligouri the job of turning the channel around. Cable executives say privately that although Winfrey’s intuitive management style worked well for her TV show, a cable channel needs more organizational discipline — something that they hope Ligouri will provide. At the cable show, Winfrey seemed to acknowledge that OWN needs different skills. “Over the years I had complete control,” she said. “It’s a little harder making a judgment as to what other shows can do. It’s about finding your particular flow and being able to connect to it.” But she added that OWN’s viewers may have expected too much, too soon. “My audience came thinking it’s all there,” she said. If she could do it over again “I would clarify it to say, we’re taking Tuesday nights or Sunday nights or Monday nights. I would bring my audience and teach them how to watch cable.” Still, Winfrey’s sales pitch is that the channel is all about her: “I have committed everything I have to this cable venture. It’s everything I have. Myself, my heart, the soul and spirit of me, my company – dedicated to the vision of OWN. I wouldn’t bet against me.” Asked by interviewer Paula Zahn who she’d most like to interview, Winfrey named Susan Smith, who was convicted of killing her two sons, and O.J. Simpson. “I have a dream of OJ Simpson confessing to me. And I’m going to make that happen. I don’t just want the interview. I want the interview on the condition that you are ready” to confess.
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