Today’s Burning Question: Lance Armstrong, Oprah and OWN


Today we posed the following question to our readers via email: “What impact will Oprah’s interview with Lance Armstrong have on her struggling OWN Network?”


Here’s how industry leaders responded:

“The Lance Armstrong admission of doping and apology is a godsend to Oprah Winfrey and her network. She is earning millions of dollars of free publicity and advertising. Reporters are all talking about the upcoming interview with Armstrong…millions who have never watched OWN will be tuning in to her interview with Armstrong and if only a fraction tune into other shows on the network she is a winner…publicity people are not asking ‘Can OWN survive?’ but ‘Are you going to be watching it?’” — David E. Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision, LLC.

“I can’t see it having a major effect long term. News stories tend to have a right skewed traffic pattern and die off pretty quickly when the story is over. Her network’s issues are systemic. She is not producing content that people want and that is not likely fixed by a short term boost of traffic/ratings.” — Ryan Wilson, CEO, FiveFifty.

“My guess it will be brief unless she has some compelling content that can be promoted within the short shelf life that the Lance Armstrong interview will hold.” — Sue Duris, President, M4 Communications.

“The Lance Armstrong interview will do little to improve the fortunes of Oprah’s seemingly ill-fated network.  While she will be able to load up on advertiser dollars over the course of the two-night event, this short-lived surge will hardly be enough to cure the network’s ills, not the least of which is quality original programming outside of Master Class, which is hosted by Winfrey herself and is the only programming most advertisers have any interest in. It’s also important to consider that whatever dollars this event brings in will first have to offset the steep sum I’m sure Oprah and the network paid for the rights to this interview. Armstrong, always the opportunist, undoubtedly shopped this interview around to all of the networks before settling on OWN and Oprah, and their winning bid. — Jimmy Martone, Director, Broadcast Media of G2 USA.

“It’s a big win for Oprah.  People remember that interviewing people is one of her core strengths.  Plus since Oprah is a women of high integrity – I’m sure the public will thing she will get the best interview and push Armstrong to be open and honest. This is a great way for people to re-introduce themselves to the notion of Oprah’s network.  And breaking the interview over 2 days provides two opportunities for audiences to reconnect. I would also think that they will leverage the interview air time (in their promo spots) to promote some of the networks best program offerings. All in all a great win and opportunity for the network.” — Gary Reisman, Principal/Co-Founder at NewMediaMetrics, Inc.

“I have heard the Oprah Winfrey Network mentioned more in the past week than ever before.  Honestly, and I know I’m not alone in this,  I am not even certain where the station is broadcast here locally [in Dallas].  An event like this is what it will take for people to discover that.  And Lance is in a great sweet spot for Oprah.  She has a way of making emotional conversations, as this one promises to be, feel particularly personal and intimate.  And, since Lance is so big and of interest to both men and women, the conversation will draw viewers who may have believed the network offered nothing but content aimed squarely at females.” — Steve Smith, Partner, Planning, Firehouse.

“While we’ll have to wait and see if this week’s sit-down between Lance Armstrong and Oprah will rehab the former cyclist’s image, it is already clear that the two-part special will provide viewers with a reason to tune in to OWN. By the early 2000s, we had come to expect tell-all celebrity interviews to almost exclusively happen on Oprah – it’s hard to forget Tom Cruise jumping around on her couch, or Michael Jackson granting Oprah his first interview in 14 years. Oprah’s interview style empathized with subjects, allowing them for better or worse to present a vulnerable, human side of themselves to the public. Yet in recent years, her network and profile have suffered: Premier celebrity interviews have become the territory of competitors like Matt Lauer and Brian Williams. A characteristic sit-down with Armstrong will return Oprah to her roots, and will test her ability to influence public opinion and be relevant in the cultural conversation.”– Barbara Apple Sullivan, CEO of Sullivan.

“Obviously OWN and Oprah are smartly leveraging the Lance story by promoting it, turning it into a media frenzy and as a result, generating huge impressions. However, just as one great ad doesn’t build a brand, one great show doesn’t make a network. If history is an indicator, I imagine OWN and Oprah will be dealing with the OWN rating and financial issues of yesterday just a few days from now.” — Kevin Meany, president and CEO of BFG.

“I think that Oprah needs Lance as much as Lance needs her, and she is going to have more on-air and online traffic than she knows what to do with. However, core Universal Sports viewers, of whom many are avid cyclists, are sure to tune in but are not likely to become regular OWN viewers. Personally, I will be watching the interview both on-air and online to see how OWN maximizes their airtime during the broadcasts to promote their network and programming. The key to how this interview will positively impact OWN, is how will they maximize the volume of new viewers to see if their programming is appealing to these people, and if it is enough to keep them coming back for more. To date, the current plan doesn’t seem to be doing the trick.” — Allyson Davis, SVP, Marketing, Universal Sports Network.

“Scoring the Lance Armstrong interview is definitely good news for the network.  While it won’t be of interest to everyone, it will be to a large proportion of the population, and I’m sure it will lead to spike in site traffic.  I suspect that the interested audience will also be very different from the usual audience, giving an opportunity to showcase themselves to a new type of visitor and to talk to advertisers ahead of the interviews that may not usually consider an interesting property for their target audience.  What’s critical though is how the team behind uses this to drive longer-term interest in the network, and make it more than just a flash in the pan.  The key to turning new visitors into repeat visitors is ensuring the content alongside the interview is relevant and engaging, encouraging them to explore further.” — Richard Mooney, Partner & Managing Director, North America for Essence Digital.


  1. 1 to 10 on the who gives a hoot scale, I say this Lance Armstrong interview is about a 9.5. I am not interested in him or his doping. Nor am I interested in the content OWN is producing. I agree with Ryan Wilson above. For those who are interested in perhaps seeing him crash and burn, this will provide a temp ratings bump for the network. No one I know (and I am in entertainment and the start up ecosystem) gives a hoot, nor are they planning to tune in. OWN needs to rethink/retool it’s content platform. Don’t get me wrong, I have a great respect for Oprah and what she’s accomplished in her life. But sometimes celebrities think that just because they have a great platform (like her network talk show) for promotion, they can simply leave that platform behind and whatever they do, their minions will follow. With Oprah and OWN — looks like maybe not so much.

  2. I think a bigger thing to think about is what this interview will do for internet live stream events. We’re seeing more and more consumers boot up their devices in exchange for their TVs either due to convenience or cost. This past summer a record number of people went online to watch the Olympics vs wait for the 8pm replay. For TV subscribers without access to OWN is going to be the outlet to watch these interviews. Granted this is a small component to the overall content of what will be discussed in the interview but I’m wondering what the total breakout of percent of total viewers watching online vs. TV will net out to be… this could be the first time we see a significant shift towards live stream.


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