LOS ANGELES >> Oprah Winfrey’s struggling television network, OWN, said Monday it is laying off one-fifth of its workers and restructuring its operations in New York and Los Angeles.
The decision to let 30 employees go is a “tough” one, but the economics of a start-up cable network didn’t fit with OWN’s cost structure, Winfrey said in a statement.
“As CEO, I have a responsibility to chart the course for long-term success for the network. To wholly achieve that long-term success, this was a necessary next step,” Winfrey said.
The responsibilities of the laid-off workers will be distributed among people with the network and its venture partners, Discovery Communications and Winfrey’s Harpo Studios, according to OWN.
The cable channel, which launched Jan. 1, 2011, endured a freshman year of executive turnover and missteps that proved OWN lacked a solid foundation on which to build. This was despite a Discovery Communications investment of a reported $250 million and counting.
Discovery executives will take a more active role in the channel, according to the announcement.
Neal Kirsch, chief financial officer of Discovery’s U.S. networks, will move to OWN as the chief financial officer and chief operating officer, reporting to OWN presidents Erik Logan and Sheri Salata.
John MacDonald had decided to exit as OWN’s COO, Logan said
Another Discovery executive, Lee Bartlett, will have joint oversight of business and legal affairs with an OWN vice president, Tina Perry.
OWN started as an ambitious new platform for Winfrey after she stepped away from her long-running, top-rated daytime talk show, “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” But viewership for OWN shows have been largely unimpressive, with one example being a short-lived Rosie O’Donnell talk show that was cancelled last week.
OWN got a burst of viewer attention this month for Winfrey’s exclusive interview with Whitney Houston’s daughter, Bobbi Kristina, which drew 3.5 million viewers, the channel’s biggest audience to date.
From the start, OWN failed to improve on, or in some instances even match, the modest ratings and small audience earned by the low-profile Discovery Health channel it replaced.
As the new channel struggled for footing, Winfrey stepped in behind the scenes and became CEO and chief creative officer of OWN, bringing in her Harpo leadership team of Logan and Salata as presidents. She also increased her on-camera profile with “Oprah’s Next Chapter.”
“I would absolutely say it is and was not where I want it to be for year one,” Winfrey said in December. “My focus up until (last) May was doing what I do best, which is ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show,’ and giving that my full attention” until its conclusion.
Since September, according to OWN, it’s seen a double-digit increase in ratings and a network high cumulative of 40 million viewers per month.
“We’re very bullish on the evolution of our network,” Logan said Monday.
The channel is banking on a boost from the second-season returns of “Oprah’s Life Class” and the reality series “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s.”
There are no immediate plans to launch a talk show with a new host to replace O’Donnell, he said.