Oprah and Howard Stern teach us how to lose their audience.

By Luke Sklar

“If you build it, they will come” – Field of Dreams

“If you go, I’ll follow you” – Dolly Parton

“I’ll go wherever you will go” – The Calling

“All you have to do is call…and I’ll be there” – Carole King

No doubt Oprah had these thoughts when she ended her TV show and started owning her own cable television network.  She had the most loyal fans on the planet.  They changed their lives for her; organized their closets for her, started reading novels for her! But a month after launching, ratings plummeted to an average of just 135,000.  She’s been swimming upstream ever since.

Then there’s Howard Stern, probably listening to the same mental soundtrack (have these two ever appeared in a story together?!).  He had 20 million listeners at his peak on CBS radio. Then to free himself from the shackles of FCC regulations he moved over to Sirius with not one, but two shows.  Yes, he too lost more than 75% of his original audience. (As an aside, NBC brought in Stern as a judge on America’s Got Talent with the hopes his large radio audience would follow.  Turns out the Pied Piper he is not. Ratings stunk).

So what happened?  Did they both have a midlife mental breakdown?

  • As type A perfectionists, they wanted to go even bigger, writing that final mega chapter in their lives.
  • They both had mass platforms they assumed would follow them wherever they went.
  • They were surrounded by greedy yes men who let them believe their own bull.

The lesson in all this fellow marketers?  If you or your brand enjoys a major league platform, think once, twice, three times before you seek seemingly greener pastures. (Hey Burger King, glad you chased 16-24 year old guys with the creepy King?) In a world of fragmentation be careful.  You can niche yourself by chasing the cult Moonies who love you and forgetting the volume market who likes you.