Struggling OWN To Target African-American Audiences

The Montgomerys, stars of 'Welcome to Sweetie Pies'

The lone hit on Oprah’s OWN network has been Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s, a reality show starring an African-American family that runs a soul food restaurant in Alabama St. Louis, MO. If you have the OWN channel and do a lot of channel surfing, it would seem that Sweetie Pie’s is on almost continuously.

The show debuted in October and has gained an average audience of 418,000 versus the usual 216,000 for the network. The Hollywood Reporter says that network execs will be taking that into consideration for future programming and advertising pitches. (Discovery Communications launched OWN.)

An S&P analyst, Tuna Amobi, tells the magazine this would be a change from the Oprah brand, which has been built on diversity. “I don’t know that it would be a good thing for OWN to so narrowly define its target,” she says. OWN president Erik Logan says they will be “nurturing” the success of the program rather than doing a 180. Other OWN programs include The Rosie Show, hosted by Rosie O’Donnell, and Our America with Lisa Ling. Discovery has funded the network with about $254 million.

The Root says, “It’s worth wondering why only the African-American audience ‘really had a connection’ with Sweetie Pie’s, and what it would take for viewers of other races to find a show with a black cast just as compelling.”

And Clutch, a site targeting Black women, writes, “I admit that I haven’t watched much OWN, but if the network is going to focus on black entertainment then I am sold.” There’s an added wish for more scripted series and a reality show about Oprah.

We have some very mixed up ideas about “brand Oprah,” don’t we. She’s African-American but she “transcends race” (the same thing people say about President Obama) to a point where people are surprised that something associated with her would have a specific appeal to African-Americans. And The Root brings up a good point. There’s nothing that says other groups can’t be entertained by Sweetie Pie’s.

In addition, Clutch brings up the issue that has lingered since before OWN even launched: Can Oprah’s network be a success without her being on screen?

Based on personal observation, the programming on OWN is too much self-help stuff. It appears a lot of other people agree. Having never seen Sweetie Pie’s, I’m going to assume that in addition to being about Black people, there’s something else that people find engaging and entertaining. Targeting a Black audience with more programming would be a great thing. But network execs would also be served by taking a look at what’s working on that show and injecting that into other programming.