The hottest media topic right now is Lance Armstrong and his interview with Oprah Winfrey. The story of the interview has been leaking out for days. Everyday seems to bring a new tidbit and media frenzy as viewers prepare to tune in to see if Oprah will provide absolution to Armstrong and his tattered brand. Indeed the entire idea of the admission of doping and apology was part of a concerted public relations effort to begin rehabilitating Armstrong’s image. Some wondered if Armstrong was using Oprah to advance his publicity rehab agenda. Yet the public relations winners in all of this are Oprah Winfrey and her OWN network.

Last year, the news was filled with stories of Oprah terminating staff at OWN and the low ratings. The question was, had America’s media mogul finally struck out in a venture. The general consensus was yes and the speculation was that OWN would not survive 2012.

Flash forward to now. OWN is still struggling in the ratings are low. Yet nobody is talking about this. They are talking about the Armstrong interview with Oprah. For days the media has been filled with stories about the upcoming interview with Armstrong and Oprah on OWN. Indeed Oprah and her network are getting millions of dollars of free publicity with these stories. After the interview airs clips of it will be shown over and over again and numerous stories written, giving Winfrey and OWN yet millions more in free publicity. Winfrey and her people know this. Almost every leak that is coming out about the interview, I would venture is coming from Winfrey’s people to continue to stoke.

The result of the free publicity is that millions of people will be tuning into the interview and watching OWN for the first time ever. The ratings will probably be the highest the network has ever obtained. Even if a fraction of the viewers tune in other OWN shows, Winfrey and the network is the winner. Beyond that, she has established herself and OWN as the place to go when a celebrity wants to make an admission and apologize for a wrong. Oprah is becoming our generation’s Walter Cronkite and to be granted the absolution, celebrities seek from her, the price will be appearing on OWN. Who might be next? Lindsay Lohan? Pete Rose? Roger Clemens? Whoever it is, one thing is certain the audience will tune in and watch the admission and see if Oprah grants absolution.
The true public relations winners in the Armstrong story are Winfrey and OWN. No longer will the media story be can they survive but rather who will be next to appear on the show. The publicity this has garnered for OWN and Winfrey is invaluable and allowed for a rebranding and re-launch of the network in the public’s mind.

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