In 2015, roughly 17 million people tuned in when Caitlyn Jenner revealed to Ms. Sawyer on ABC’s “20/20” that she was transgender. Ms. Winfrey’s interview of Ms. Markle and Prince Harry matched that, but fell short of the 2018 “60 Minutes” episode in which Stephanie Clifford (also known as Stormy Daniels) told Anderson Cooper about her past affair with Donald J. Trump. That interview drew 22 million. When Mr. Trump sat down for a contentious “60 Minutes” interview with Lesley Stahl in the run-up to the 2020 election, 17.4 million viewers tuned in.
Ms. Winfrey’s interview with Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, was unusual in that it was not overseen by a network news division. Ms. Winfrey’s company, Harpo Productions, produced the special, and CBS paid at least $7 million to license it, according to a person with knowledge of the arrangement. (The Wall Street Journal previously reported the figure.) The deal was also a gamble: It was taped after the network had bought the rights, according to two people with knowledge of how the show was made. During the interview, Ms. Winfrey said she had been trying to land an exclusive with the couple for about three years.
CBS emerged the winning bidder despite Ms. Winfrey’s rocky experience at “60 Minutes,” where she was a special contributor in 2017 and 2018. In a 2019 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Ms. Winfrey revealed that the show’s producers had criticized her delivery, saying she had “too much emotion” in her voice, even when she said her own name. (Ms. Winfrey has maintained a connection to CBS through her good friend Gayle King, an anchor of “CBS This Morning,” and she appeared on that show Monday.)
Further complicating CBS’s attempt to get the big get was the thicket of media companies surrounding Ms. Winfrey and the former royal couple. Ms. Winfrey has her own cable network, OWN, and is a major part of the streaming platform AppleTV+. Recent episodes of Apple’s “The Oprah Conversation” have featured her interviews of Barack Obama, Dolly Parton and Mariah Carey.
Ms. Markle and Prince Harry, for their part, have a deal with Netflix, one they signed last year, months after they announced they would relinquish their royal duties. They also have an agreement to make podcasts for Spotify.
The pact between CBS and Harpo Productions was largely focused on TV rights. The interview ran live on ViacomCBS’ newly rebranded streaming service, Paramount+; but at least for now it will not be available on Paramount+ for on-demand viewing. Instead, the special will be available on CBS.com and the CBS app for 30 days, a CBS spokesman said.
The network announced the special only three weeks ago. Originally slotted for 90 minutes, it ended up a two-hour show. Before the broadcast, CBS released teaser clips, and British tabloids that have been unfriendly to Ms. Markle shot back with anonymously sourced items on her apparent misdeeds.
Sunday’s audience of 17 million viewers will only grow after Nielsen tabulates some viewers who streamed the special, as well as out-of-home viewing.