LOS ANGELES, March 28 Oprah Winfrey's fledgling
OWN television channel saw a 21 percent rise in total daily
viewers in the first quarter of 2012, as the talk show's queen
decision to put more of herself on the network began to pay off.
But the 15-month-old venture is still attracting only
180,000 viewers a day, on average, to its mix of feel-good,
lifestyle programming, according to first quarter data released
by OWN on Wednesday.
But what viewers like best is Winfrey herself mixing it up
with A-list celebrities. Winfrey's March interview with members
of Whitney Houston's family shortly after the singer's death
drew a record 3.5 million viewers, and her chat last week with
pop star Lady Gaga was watched by more than 800,000 people.
Those two shows helped boost primetime ratings for March by
35 percent in total viewers, compared to March 2011, and boosted
OWN to 29th place among the 97 ad-supported U.S. cable networks
for the month.
"We are pleased with our start for 2012, viewers are
responding and connecting with our programming," OWN president
Erik Logan said in a statement.
OWN, a joint venture between Winfrey and Discovery
Communications, has struggled to find a sizeable audience since
its launch in January 2011.
Last week, the network laid off 30 production staffers and
canceled comedian Rosie O'Donnell's talk show after just five
months due to sagging ratings.
OWN said on Wednesday that its most popular programs were
those featuring Winfrey herself, who returned to her chat show
roots in January by getting out of the studio and meeting the
likes of rocker Steven Tyler and mega-church pastor Joel Osteen.
"Oprah Presents Master Class" featuring actress Jane Fonda
and country singer Reba McEntire also did well for the network.
Winfrey quit her daily syndicated U.S. talk show, leaving
more than six million regular viewers behind, in May 2011 after
25 years. In July, she took on the role of both chief executive
and chief creative officer at OWN, and announced she was working
on the new chat show.
(Reporting By Jill Serjeant)