Oprah has been moving her operations to her own television network, OWN (the Oprah Winfrey Network). A sociologist discusses this move:
I see OWN as a smart move for two reasons. First, Oprah is only one person. She has been working nonstop in front of the camera for nearly 30 years. It may be time to think about how to develop her brand in a way that is not completely dependent on her as a frontwoman. Second, the move to cable may be a good choice in a media context where the center of gravity is shifting away from network television premised on the existence of large mass audiences.
In further comments, it is suggested that Oprah’s popularity is partly due to her positioning within the media landscape:
Oprah is an icon for many reasons, but surely one is that her career trajectory has closely mapped changes in the larger media landscape. Beginning in the daytime television talk show format, pioneered by Phil Donahue, Oprah fully realized the potential of the genre as she leveraged her fame on multiple media platforms including, radio, television, film, Broadway, books, magazines, and the Internet. In addition to her work in daytime talk, some of her most recognizable products are her highly successful lifestyle magazine O, her roles in high-end dramatic works for film and stage, like The Color Purple and Beloved, and her ill-conceived philanthropic project for girls in South Africa (also a documentary). Although these projects did not all succeed equally well, they have cemented Oprah’s cultural prominence and sheer ubiquity. They also demonstrate Oprah’s ability to take risks.
I would also note that Oprah is a global media phenomenon. Unlike other big celebrities in the United States, Oprah has taken advantage of the increasingly expansive syndication of the digital era to build a mass international audience.
This sort of perspective is a broader one, moving beyond Oprah’s personality or the atmosphere of her show and emphasizing how Winfrey has been very effective at working at the forefront of the changing media. Particularly in expanding to newer platforms, Winfrey has built her brand beyond just a talk-show.
I wonder how much of this is post-hoc analysis. When Oprah was building her show and audience, just how risky was she? Looking back, we can see that she has been successful. But there must have been other personalities and celebrities that attempted to follow similar paths. How exactly did Oprah get ahead or leverage these particular technologies? How risky were her decisions compared to others? Was she a first-adopter or just in the opening waves of certain changes?