Oprah to launch her OWN network

Talk queen's show could eventually move there

January 16, 2008|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,sun television critic

Oprah Winfrey and Maryland-based Discovery Communications will team up to launch a cable channel next year that could eventually become the new home of The Oprah Winfrey Show.

In announcing the deal yesterday, Winfrey was purposely vague about the kind of programs she planned for the channel that will reach 70 million homes. But she said it was possible that her long-running talk show could move to her new channel in 2011, when her syndication contract expires.

If her show does move, the change will rock the world of daytime TV, where her program not only dominates all other talk shows but also drives viewers to early-evening newscasts on the broadcast channels that carry it.

"Anything's possible," she said during a news conference yesterday. "We'll cross that bridge when we get to it."

Titled OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, the new channel will be co-owned by Win- frey and the Silver Spring cable conglomerate. Winfrey will serve as chairman. Replacing Discovery Health on the cable landscape, the channel will launch sometime after June 2009.

When asked how The Oprah Winfrey Network will differ from the Oxygen Channel, with which she was previously associated, the talk show host said, "I was only an investor in Oxygen. Here I'm chairman and owner. ... This is my vision."

Winfrey said yesterday that she resigned from the board of directors of Oxygen shortly after joining because its point of view and sensibility came to be at odds with hers.

"The channel did not reflect my voice," she said.

But some media analysts see Winfrey as rewriting history with that explanation.

"Oprah can now try and distance herself all she wants from Oxygen, but the truth is that people saw Oxygen as her network, and they still didn't watch," said Douglas Gomery, a media economist at the University of Maryland, College Park.

"What you have here is Discovery trying to reinvent itself. Several of its channels have kind of maxed-out on their high-income, high-education audience, and the company is trying to come up with something new. But given her history with Oxygen, Oprah Winfrey is no slam-dunk for success on cable - far from it."

Winfrey described her role at OWN as being "the voice and the brand of the network."

Though she declined to discuss specific programs and talent for the channel, Winfrey said programming would focus on such topics as "money, weight, health, relationships and spirit."

She said the goals of her channel will include "helping people raise children, helping people to give back ... and teaching people to be all that they can be in living their best lives."

Explaining that she recently found a 1992 diary entry that outlined her hopes for such a channel, Winfrey said, "This network is the fulfillment of yet another dream for me. ... It's another platform to help people evolve to be all they can be."

Winfrey said her first task is to hire a CEO to run the channel. After that, a decision will be made on whether the network will be headquartered in Maryland or Chicago, where her production company is based.

David Zaslav, president and CEO of Discovery Communications said that even though his company and Winfrey will each have 50 percent ownership of OWN, Winfrey will be the "creative leader."

"There is a great value connection between Discovery and Oprah Winfrey," he said. "There is no stronger brand in media than the Oprah brand - it's aspirational and it's authentic. It stands for inspiring and entertaining people."

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

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