Oprah Winfrey's interview with Meghan and Harry pulls in 17.1 million viewers on CBS

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·3-min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Prince Harry and Meghan, Oprah Winfrey
Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, speak with Oprah Winfrey for a two-hour telecast on CBS. (Joe Pugliese / Harpo Productions/CBS)

Oprah Winfrey's highly anticipated interview with disaffected royal couple Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, was a major ratings draw for CBS on Sunday.

An average of 17.1 million viewers watched the two-hour telecast from 8 to 10 p.m. on both coasts, according to Nielsen. The figure is well in the range of the network's expectations. CBS paid roughly $8 million for the rights to the program and sold 30-second commercials at a rate of $325,000.

The figure falls well below Winfrey's most-watched interview, her 90-minute sit-down with pop superstar Michael Jackson on Feb. 10, 1993. An audience of 62 million viewers tuned in to ABC for that program during an era when the broadcast networks faced competition only from cable, which was then in around 60% of U.S. television households.

"Oprah With Meghan and Harry" did top Diane Sawyer's exclusive with Caitlyn Jenner when the Olympic gold medal-winning athlete came out as a transgender woman. That April 24, 2015, interview was watched by 16.9 million viewers on ABC.

The audience for "Oprah With Meghan and Harry" was impressive by streaming-era standards, when viewers have more choices and the knowledge that they can catch clips on the internet after a program airs.

Appointment viewing outside of sporting events has nearly become a relic in recent years, to the point where younger viewers of Winfrey's show commented on social media about having to sit through commercials.

The program lived up to its promotional buildup, as Winfrey's skillful questioning elicited a number of bombshell revelations about the challenges that Meghan and Harry faced during their courtship and marriage as they battled the judgments of the royal family and vicious coverage in the British tabloid press.

Meghan, who is biracial, and Harry also revealed that a royal family member asked how dark their son's skin would be. The pregnant duchess said the treatment she received drove her to suicidal thoughts.

Winfrey, appearing Monday on "CBS This Morning," said Harry requested she reveal that neither of his grandparents, Queen Elizabeth II nor Prince Philip, asked the question about Archie's skin tone.

Tina Brown, a CBS News contributor, described the interview as "Kryptonite, this is a hand grenade that has been thrown into the heart of the institution. This is immensely damaging."

"Oprah With Meghan and Harry" is scheduled to air in the United Kingdom on Monday night.

Viewers who missed the interview can stream it for free in its entirety on CBS.com, the ad-supported website where the network presents its shows after they air. It will not be available on parent company ViacomCBS' new subscription video streaming service Paramount+ as it competes directly with Netflix, where Meghan and Harry have a production deal.

The popularity and buzz surrounding "Oprah With Meghan and Harry" caused some West Coast royal watchers to complain on social media about the time zone delay of the broadcast. CBS does air live awards shows coast-to-coast, but taped programming typically runs in prime time from 8 to 11 p.m. in all time zones when the largest number of viewers are available to watch.

But running "Oprah With Meghan and Harry" across all time zones at once would have required CBS affiliates in the western half of the U.S. to preempt their local newscasts, which are a major source of ad revenue. Such a move also would have had little effect on the national rating for the program.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting