OWN Blitzes TV and Web, Sparks Social Chatter With Lance Armstrong

Two-part interview takes over Oprah.com

If you were online looking for Staten Island Law or Oprah's Lifeclass last night, you were out of luck. All Oprah properties were seriously involved in simulcasting the first half of OWN CEO Oprah Winfrey's two-night interview with Lance Armstrong.

Ratings were 4.3 million total viewers cumulatively across two airings—that's 3.2 million for the initial broadcast and another 1.1 for the immediate follow-up. That's not bad for a network that had a subscriber fee of almost nothing a year ago and was struggling to find a single hit program, but still not as good as its No. 1 telecast: last year's interview with the family of Whitney Houston on Oprah's Next Chapter, which scored 3.5 million total viewers. Expectedly, the program broke all the network's records for male viewership, which is interesting anecdotally but doesn't affect the company's core business much—it'll still be airing Welcome to Sweetie Pie's, and its target viewership is still predominately female. In the interview, Armstrong admitted to doping, prompting responses from many who'd stood by the cyclist in his struggle with cancer, including the Livestrong Foundation.

Parent company Discovery Communications has been asserting confidently for the last several months that the network, which was dogged through its first year by ballooning production costs, unceremonious leadership changes and embarrassing make-goods on overpromised GRPs, will break even during 2013. The network has a ways to go—at one point it was $330 million in the red—but Discovery, after a mea culpa or two, has negotiated hard for sub fee increases for OWN, and it has retained advertisers.

Sources close to the network said that the Lance Armstrong interview was not a an external ad push or sponsorship opportunity for new advertisers; the net has devoted many of its resources to retaining advertisers and offered loyal clients first crack at the spots on the hot interview as thankyous for sticking with the net through troubled times. Selling presenting opportunities was deemed "inappropriate," said one source, given the sensitive subject matter. Oddly, the network chose not to monetize the online portion at all—ad breaks were filled with a placeholder image and elevator music during the webcast.

And the content itself? Well, Armstrong didn't fare terribly well in the court of public opinion. The cyclist told Winfrey, "I didn't invent the culture," with reference to what he claimed was a long history of performance-enhancing drug use in his sport, among other evasive gems. “I looked up the definition of a cheat to gain an advantage," he said. "I didn’t view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field.”

Whether Armstrong's view was the deciding factor in whether or not he broke the rules, he certainly provoked responses. As of this writing, Lance Armstrong and Oprah are both still trending on Twitter, and yes, some of the one-liners are pretty good.


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