Since then, the rise of digital media and its infinite screen time options have deeply struck the power of the major broadcasters. As audiences splintered, prime-time interview opportunities that had to be seen became more and more rare. Even the greatest lone fighters of the last few years lacked the character power of the specials from two decades ago and more. The 17.1 million audience for Ms. Winfrey’s interview with Ms. Markle and Prince Harry matched the number of viewers who tuned in when Caitlyn Jenner revealed that on a 2015 episode of ABC’s “20/20” she was transgender for Ms. Sawyer.
The Sunday night special was unusual in that it was not overseen by a network news department. Ms. Winfrey’s company, Harpo Productions, produced it, and CBS paid at least $ 7 million to license the show, according to one person with knowledge of the arrangement. (The Wall Street Journal previously reported the number.) The deal was also a gamble: it was taped after the network bought the rights, according to two people who knew how the show was made. During the interview, Ms. Winfrey said she had been trying to land the exclusive with the couple for about three years.
Despite Ms. Winfrey’s rocky experience, CBS was named a winner at 60 Minutes, where she made a special contribution in 2017 and 2018. In a 2019 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Ms. Winfrey revealed that the show’s producers criticized her delivery. She said she had “too much emotion” in her voice even when she said her own name. (Ms. Winfrey was connected to the network through good friend Gayle King, an anchor on CBS This Morning, and appeared on that show on Monday.)
Another complication in CBS’s attempt to achieve the great success was the thicket of media outlets that surrounded Ms. Winfrey and the former royal couple. Ms. Winfrey has her own cable network, OWN, and is an important part of the AppleTV + streaming platform. The most recent episodes of Apple’s “The Oprah Conversation” featured her interviews with Barack Obama, Dolly Parton and Mariah Carey.
Ms. Markle and Prince Harry signed a multi-year deal with Netflix last year to direct documentaries and other shows. They also signed up to create podcasts for Spotify and released the first episode on December 29th. It included guest appearances by Elton John, Tyler Perry, and other celebrities, as well as the first public statement by her son Archie.
The pact between CBS and Harpo Productions mainly focused on TV rights. The interview ran live on ViacomCBS’s newly renamed streaming service, Paramount +; For now, at least, it won’t be available for on-demand viewing on Paramount +. Instead, the special will be available on CBS.com and the CBS app for 30 days, a CBS spokesperson said.
Originally played for 90 minutes, a two hour show ended. CBS released teaser clips prior to airing, and British tabloids unfriendly to Ms. Markle shot back with anonymized articles about her apparent misdeeds.
The estimate of 17.1 million viewers won’t grow until after Nielsen tabulates a few viewers who streamed the special, as well as the off-home ad.