Fast Company

Three Things Magic Johnson's New Cable Network Can Learn From Oprah's OWN Flops

Magic Johnson is launching Aspire, a cable network of uplifting programming. It comes as Oprah Winfrey's positivity-focused OWN nears two years of dismal ratings. So, do we hate happy TV? Is Aspire doomed? An industry expert explains why Johnson might just have a shot.

Fault: Leaning on a name

Oprah's Next Chapter is the only show averaging nearly 1 million viewers. Says Brad Adgate of Horizon Media: "If you're calling a network the Oprah Winfrey Network, why isn't she on it more?"

Fix: Build a new brand

Magic isn't attaching his name to Aspire, nor is he going to have his own show. "By not putting his name on it," Adgate says, "Aspire can change programming five years from now and be fine."

Fault: Unrealistic Goals

After Winfrey's 25-year run on network TV, expectations for the cable channel were through the roof. "We overestimated OWN based on brand recognition," says Adgate.

Fix: Know the network's limits

Aspire isn't overselling the number of viewers it expects to attract, Adgate says. "It's catering to a very niche audience. As a result, it's not going to be under the same media glare."

Fault: Not enough hits

The Rosie Show could have been a bright spot, but it was canceled after a few months of low ratings. Why? Original programming is cushioned by drab lead-ins, such as TLC reruns.

Fix: Pack the lineup

Aspire's push into original scripted programming will potentially lead it to the holy grail of cable networks: a hit franchise show that resonates with viewers, a la AMC's Mad Men.

denis farrell/ap images (Winfrey); allen berezovsky/getty images (johnson)

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