OWN's Armstrong Interview Is Popular, But Not Overwhelming

Controversial Talk Garners 4.3M Viewers Over Two Airings

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Oprah Winfrey's interview with Lance Armstrong's may have set Twitter on fire, but its effect on the celebrity's cable network remains to be seen.

Lance Armstrong and Oprah Winfrey
Lance Armstrong and Oprah Winfrey Credit: OWN

OWN, a joint venture of Ms. Winfrey's Harpo Productions and Discovery Communications, said its two Thursday-night showings of Ms. Winfrey's much-anticipated conversation with the controversial bike-racer drew a total of 4.3 million, marking "the highest-rated weekday telecast in OWN history across all key demos," the network said in a statement.

The bulk of viewership occurred during the network's 9 p.m. airing of the interview, which OWN said drew 3.2 million viewers. The remaining 1.1 million watched a 10:30 p.m. rebroadcast.

OWN's most-watched broadcast remains an interview Ms. Winfrey conducted with the family of Whitney Houston. That telecast drew 3.5 million viewers.

The numbers are impressive for OWN, and for cable. Last week, according to Nielsen, the best-watched non-sports prime-time programs on cable were Discovery's "Gold Rush" (3.09 million viewers) and Disney Channel's "Tangled" (2.72 million).

But the numbers are paltry when compared to programming on broadcast, where Ms. Winfrey once held forth. Indeed, the total 4.3 million viewers who tuned in for the Lance Armstrong interview would not equal the audience that tuned in to see an episode of "The Office" on NBC last week (4.5 million, according to Nielsen). And they would put it neck and neck, most likely with the the crowd that tuned into the Wednesday-night episode of the telenovela "Amor Bravo" on Univision (4.39 millon).

The Armstrong interview numbers come nowhere near TV's most-watched selections. CBS's "NCIS" attracted more than 21 million viewers last week, according to Nielsen.

OWN has been seeking higher-than-normal prices from last-minute sponsors in so-called "scatter" ad inventory surrounding the program, according to ad buyers. The network is counting on Ms. Wifnrey to secure big "gets" of stars -- in addition to Mr. Armstrong and Ms. Houston's family, she has also interviewed David Letterman -- to help draw a wider swath of audience to the channel, which did not start off a robustly as its backers had likely hoped, and has required a significant outlay of cash by Discovery.

A second part of the interview is slated to air this evening on OWN.

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