”For years, people have been trying to get major TV shows to come down and broadcast, and other countries have also had a bit of a crack at it,” says Andrew McEvoy, managing director of Tourism Australia. ”It’s in no way a new idea. Our achievement has been to get it across the line.”
The announcement that Oprah Winfrey and 300 of her closest friends were coming Down Under took everyone – her audience, Australia, the world’s media – by surprise. But the truth is it had been a long time coming.
The renewed interest in trying to woo Oprah to Australia surfaced in January as Tourism Australia offices around the world began workshopping ways to support the new ”There’s Nothing Like Australia” campaign, on which the agency is expected to spend about $150 million globally over the next three years.
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The idea of hosting Oprah in her 25th and final season – she is retiring her talk show next September, but will launch her own cable channel, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), next January – ”really got hot” around Easter, Mr McEvoy says.
After preliminary discussions with her production company, Harpo, a team from the Tourism Australia’s Los Angeles office took a proposal to Chicago in April. Oprah was not present at the meeting but ”there was definitely interest”, Mr McEvoy says. When the Harpo team went into a summer production break in June and July, there was still no deal. But around August 14, word came from Harpo that the deal had been ”put through Ms Winfrey” and that she was keen.
Tourism Australia thought they were looking at an on-air announcement in late October, leaving time to iron out the still-sketchy details. But three days later, Harpo called to say Oprah liked the idea so much she wanted to announce it on the first show of her final season, to be filmed on September 9 for broadcast on September 13.
At that point, says Mr McEvoy, ”It was all hands on deck. It was a bit of a shock to the system, but all our partners – Qantas, the Sydney Opera House, all these guys – came on board to make sure we could deliver what we were promising.”
Tourism Australia is spending $1.5 million on the event. Tourism NSW is contributing ”between $1 million and $2 million”. Tourism Victoria is in for about $500,000, and Tourism Queensland for about $400,000. The visitors will not have to pay for their accommodation, travel and most meals.
Qantas is flying the 450 crew and audience free of charge. Contrary to some reports, John Travolta will not be piloting the plane, although he will visit Australia in November for Qantas’s 90th birthday celebrations. Oprah is believed to be flying separately.
Harpo has committed to filming at least two programs in Australia. At the Ten Network’s 2011 season launch last week it was revealed that ”three Oprah specials” would be screened here just days after they go to air in the US.
Precise itineraries are being frantically developed, and will become firmer after Harpo’s scouts arrive later this month, but this much is known: on December 7, Oprah and her 300 guests will touch down; they’ll spend a day in Sydney, then split into three groups of 100; those groups will go to NSW, Victoria and Queensland, where they’ll spend about a week, while Oprah ”correspondents” file reports from the other states; everyone will reconvene in Sydney by December 14, when two shows will be recorded before a live audience of an estimated 6000 people on the Opera House forecourt.
The episodes will to go to air in mid-January, just before Tourism Australia’s ”G’Day USA” event kicks off in the week before Australia Day, and at the height of the US travel-purchasing season. By February, the success or otherwise of the campaign should be apparent.
According to branding consultant Tim Flattery, the event has already paid for itself. ”It’s generated massive interest around the world and that alone is worth the spend,” he says. ”Just the PR would be worth more than Tourism Australia has outlaid.”
The announcement was reported in Britain, Zimbabwe, India, Germany, Argentina and Ireland, among many others. It was massive news in the US.
The Oprah Winfrey Show is watched by about 9 million people a day in the US, most of them white women aged over 55, according to a December 2007 analysis by NBC. The program is also watched in 145 other countries. That audience reach has made Winfrey the most powerful woman in entertainment, with an estimated personal fortune of $US2.5 billion ($A2.7 billion) in 2009, according to Forbes, and the ability to boost the fortune of any person, product or brand she endorses on her show.
According to Janice Peck, author of The Age of Oprah, advance notice that a book is to get the Oprah seal of approval is enough to persuade most publishers in the United States to increase their print run by 500,000 copies.
Tourism Australia is reluctant to put a dollar value on the Oprah exercise but it is possible to do a rough calculation.
The Chicago Tribune recently reported that a 30-second advertising slot on Oprah typically sells for about $US100,000 (although the asking price for her final show next September is as much as $US1 million a spot). Assuming Oprah’s Australian shows are largely positive, there will be two programs at 43 minutes each extolling the virtues of this country. To buy that much advertising on the show would cost $US17.2 million. If there is a third show, that becomes $US25.8 million.
As Mr McEvoy says: ”We’ve obviously got our investment back in spades already, and all that programming is still to come.”