BLACK VOICES

OWN Network Targets African American Audiences To Tackle Dismal Performance

Since the launch of her new television network in January 2011, Oprah has had difficulty matching the success she had with her talk show. But OWN executives think they may have found the solution to the struggling network's problems: African American viewers.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, the television network, just shy of a year old, plans to adjust to the tough times by capitalizing on the success it has had with black viewers. While its performance has been rather bleak since the launch, network president Erik Logan and Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav said it has performed particularly well with black audiences based on the success of the reality show "Sweetie Pies."

"Anytime you have a program that pops like "Sweetie Pies" did, you start looking at what drove it," Logan told Adweek. "And we saw that the African American audience really had a connection with that show...We're going to look at ways to nurture and grow that."

The reality show, which premiered in October 2011, follows St. Louis soul singer Robbie Montgomery and her family as they look to expand their family-owned restaurant. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the show enjoys an average viewership of around 418,000, almost double the networks primetime audience of around 216,000.

The decision to target black viewers comes as no surprise, since African Americans watch more television than any other segment of the population, according to Nielsen Media Research. It is, however, a rather shocking choice based on the talk show queen's former audience.

"Oprah is a brand that goes far beyond the African American market," senior media and entertainment analyst in Standard & Poor's U.S. Equite Research Services, Tuna Amobi told the Hollywood Reporter. "I don't know that it would be a good thing for OWN to so narrowly define its target."

But Logan said the network has no plans to carry out a large-scale refocusing, and is instead capitalizing on the obvious success it has seen with certain programming.

"We're not going to sell out and just chase one demographic or segment," he said. "We're going to nurture the success we had with "Sweetie Pies." The Oprah brand is very broad. How we translate that to the screen is the challenge we have."

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