Oprah’s Harry and Meghan interview draws more than 17 million viewers
Oprah Winfrey’s highly-anticipated interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on Sunday night attracted north of 17.1 million viewers to CBS, Nielsen’s early numbers suggest, offering a glimmer of hope for a TV industry that continues to see ratings erosion for live event programming.
That performance figure—more than double the 6.9 million total viewers that tuned into last weekend’s Golden Globes—does not include viewership from the West Coast, meaning the broadcast’s recorded audience is all but guaranteed to increase once Nielsen reports its final timezone-adjusted numbers.
The couple’s first public interview since stepping down from their Royal duties last year was a gamble for CBS, which is believed to have paid between $7 million and $9 million for the rights to the broadcast, the Wall Street Journal reports. That deal with Harpo Productions, which is owned by Winfrey, includes international airing rights; the interview is set to broadcast in the U.K. this evening at 9 p.m. local time.
But despite numerous TV events in recent months slumping below their pre-pandemic viewership numbers, CBS’ gamble appears to have paid off, with the network netting millions of eyeballs and charging advertisers in the ballpark of $325,000 per 30-seconds of commercial time.
An average one-hour block of TV has as much as 18 minutes of commercial time, equaling over three dozen 30-second ads, says David Campanelli, executive VP and chief investment officer at Horizon Media. Assuming the two-hour special sold 64 spots for $325,000 each, CBS raked in more than $20 million in ad revenue, he suggests.
Harry and Meghan’s sit-down with Oprah further illustrates the viability that linear TV still has, Campanelli says. Such “water cooler” events are fewer and farther between now than in previous years, he adds, but such one-time events have long proved attractive to viewers and advertisers alike.
In 2015, when then Bruce Jenner introduced himself as Caitlyn Jenner during a “20/20” special on ABC with Diane Sawyer, the two-hour interview was a ratings bonanza; it attracted a total of 16.9 million viewers—the most in 15 years.
That pales in comparison to Monica Lewinsky’s 1999 interview, also broadcast on ABC’s “20/20,” which garnered an average audience of 48.5 million and cost advertisers $400,000 per 30-second slot, according to Ad Age data.
Traditional TV viewership has been in decline for years. While some programming saw a spike in the early days of pandemic lockdowns, the decline in ratings returned. Both the Golden Globes and Super Bowl hit multi-year lows in 2021.
But Oprah’s interview with the ex-Royals suggests that if cord-cutter and cord-never Americans want to be in the know with the latest gossip, many are still willing to find a TV and sit through commercials.