As the Oprah caravan arrives in Australia today to play at our most famous big top, the hype does not match reality.

The Oprah Winfrey Show after 25 years has just suffered one of its worst years, with US headings such as “Oprah Winfrey Show fades in ratings”, “Lowest ratings week in its 24-year history”, “Ratings hit all-time low! Oprah is history.”

The program had an average audience peak of nearly 9 million in 2005, was down in 2008 to below 7 million and subsequently in some weeks going below 4 million viewers. During 2010 Judge Judy easily beat Oprah for several weeks with up to 2 million more viewers, both well behind the leading syndicated program Wheel Of Fortune. Oprah has also had some good days in 2010 with her program featuring Michael Jackson’s kids scoring a 6.7 rating and her chats with Marie Osmond about her son, who committed suicide, and George W. Bush rating well.

The major problem is that this is the farewell season for The Oprah Winfrey Show before her OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network, launches in the new year.

This week’s topics on her show in the US look uninspiring with Michael Jackson’s controversial album, America’s worst chefs get rescued, how Wynonna Judd survived the ultimate betrayal, the unspeakable tragedy in Connecticut and 25 years later — Oprah returns to Williamstown. No wonder she needs the Australian trip and yet the curious thing is that the trip does not get any promotion on her own website today.

And do not be misled by her selling ability because despite devoting a whole show to the movie Australia with her two favourite Australians  Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, she was unable to save the movie in the US.

In Australia, Oprah is a flop, achieving only half the viewers of other afternoon programs on Ten such as the Bold and the Beautiful, Huey’s Kitchen and Judge Judy.

It would be interesting to know how many of her studio audience that she is bringing to Australia had ever been outside the US or even had a passport. I would suspect very few.

The Oprah Winfrey Show is a declining daytime program in the US with an audience of 5-8 million largely female viewers and perhaps the best time has passed to launch her own channel .

The Australian investment of $5 million in her trip will optimistically receive far wider coverage in the US media than just her own program. Be wary of the exaggerated claims of the value of international media exposure, visitor growth and contribution to the economy as always made but hopefully Oprah has to be a better investment than Tiger Woods or the World Cup but that is for another day.

Oprah needs success down under as much as Australia needs international tourists.

Peter Fray

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