Oprah Interview Turns Cultural Moment
Abby Long is the Senior Managing Editor at PMG.
Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Prince Harry and Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle aired Sunday night, drawing more than 17.1 million viewers on CBS, according to Nielsen’s preliminary figures, with the media company booking an estimated $20 million in ads for the interview. Millions more streamed the special, with many viewers around the world utilizing VPNs to access the interview as it aired in the U.S. The events revealed in the interview have sparked new discussions on race and mental health, consuming public conversation and setting the news agenda for the week ahead. George Cheeks, the CBS Entertainment Group CEO, wrote a memo on Monday to staff saying,
“[Sunday] night, the vitality and power of CBS and broadcast television was on display in a big way,” continuing on to say “[the interview] was the largest primetime audience for any entertainment special during the current 2020-2021 season and it dominated social media by every measure.” Cheeks noted that “the initial 17.1 million figure for the Oprah special will continue to grow in the days ahead.”
After the interview aired in the U.K. on Monday, a new wave of coverage and public interest dominated the social internet and the front page of nearly every publication. “Meghan” and “Oprah” have remained trending on Twitter since Sunday, with the CBS app rising to the top of the Apple App Store where the interview is available on-demand. As of Tuesday morning, Buckingham Palace has yet to comment on the claims made by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, driving even more buzz and speculation.
TV insiders and analysts report that the interview demonstrates just how confusing the streaming era has become for people as they navigate how, when, and where to watch an interview when they don’t catch it live. According to The Wall Street Journal, CBS licensed the interview from Oprah Winfrey’s production company Harpo Productions for over $7 million, and while the interview appeared live on ViacomCBS’ new Paramount+ streaming service Sunday night, it’s unclear “where it will live permanently.”
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Paramount+ launched just last Thursday as the latest entrant to the competitive streaming landscape, though Variety reports that Paramount+ doesn’t hold the streaming rights to the special, Harpo Productions does. To complicate matters further, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) is majority-owned by Discovery (with a 95 percent stake), which has its own streaming service Discovery+. As the media rights conversation continues to unfold, for now, viewers can see the interview on the CBS app and CBS.com for free for the next 30 days.
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