Oprah Winfrey Network Joins Windows 8 Push With Its First App

But OWN May Still Be Missing Digital Opportunities

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Oprah Winfrey's OWN is rolling out its first app in conjunction with the introduction of Windows 8.

The Oprah Winfrey Network is releasing an app for Windows 8.
The Oprah Winfrey Network is releasing an app for Windows 8.

The free app, available on Windows 8-enabled devices including Microsoft's new Surface tablet, will allow users to see behind-the-scenes video and web extras from OWN shows, view content from O, The Oprah Magazine and access advice and guidance from experts on everything from health and relationships to fashion, beauty and money.

OWN will market the app with a contest to win a trip to see "Oprah's Lifeclass."

"We are trying to communicate with people wherever they are and however they want to be communicated with," said Noel Kehoe, VP-digital marketing at OWN. The goal is for the app to become a daily companion, she said.

The app is a step forward for OWN's digital strategy, where some observers think the young network is missing an opportunity to help itself.

Oprah.com already enjoyed a robust community of fans from "The Oprah Winfrey Show" when the Oprah Winfrey Network arrived in January 2011. The site now includes a section for OWN, but the network might benefit from a larger presence and more original content.

"Oprah.com is a powerful destination, but it's not connected enough to OWN," said Kate Watts, managing director at Huge , a full-service interactive agency. "It needs an overhaul. You don't want a digital property that 's just directing and promoting."

"Oprah needs to become more like Martha," Ms. Watts suggested.

Of course, Martha Stewart doesn't have her own network to run -- her hours-long block of programming on the Hallmark Channel fell flat with viewers and her daily syndicated TV show ran out of steam -- but the DIY maven has done a good job of connecting with her audience on digital platforms and is aiming to create new content specifically designed for digital media.

The OWN section of Oprah.com is so far sticking to video pulled from its TV shows. "They are not creating content outside of the shows and allowing video to live as its own entity," Ms. Watts said. "Video will become more compelling than broadcast. They should be using digital to shape broadcast rather than vice versa. Digital can't be an afterthought."

OWN has been successful in digital media with "Oprah's Lifeclass," which provides companion course-work in real time, and in using social platforms such as Pinterest, Instagram and Storify to engage views. More than 1 million people have downloaded course work, according to OWN.

OWN also brought back Ms. Winfrey's book club, adding social and digital elements such as notes from Ms. Winfrey in the margins of selected books' electronic editions. There's an Oprah feed on Flipboard and an Oprah page coming to The Huffington Post on Nov. 1 featuring feature content created and curated by writers and producers of OWN and Oprah.com.

OWN has been keenly focused on building momentum off the cable property after it got off to a lackluster start, moving past low ratings , layoffs, programming issues and management musical chairs. It has now reported three consecutive quarters of ratings growth, with boosts from big-named guests on "Oprah's Next Chapter" including Whitney Houston's daughter Bobbi Kristina, Rihanna and the Kardashians.

Non-Oprah programming is also finding an audience on the channel, led by "Welcome to Sweetie Pie's" and "Fix My Life," starring life coach Iyanla Vanzant.

The next phase of programming will include scripted series, with OWN announcing an exclusive deal with Tyler Perry earlier in the month.

But building a network can't be done in a silo, said Cameron Yuill, founder of AdGent Digital, a digital media and technology company.

"The old model was waiting until a network is stable to look at digital, but this all needs to be done simultaneously," he said. "OWN needs to create more content specifically for the web ,and each bit of content needs to have a social element. It's more than just using a snippet of TV programming."

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