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Is Oprah Ready to Go on Her OWN?

Thursday, 5 Nov 2009 | 2:56 PM ET
Oprah Winfrey
AP
Oprah Winfrey

Rumors are swirling that Oprah will give up her daytime syndicated talk show, to bring the show, and her full focus to OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, in mid-2011.

That would mean she would not renew her contract with CBS Syndication for an additional year.

Harpo, Winfrey's company, tells me "Oprah has not made a decision yet" about whether or not to renew her contract when it expires in mid-2011, saying she will make a decision "before the end of the year."

Oprah's showis the highest rated daytime talk show in history, and the media giants are anxiously awaiting her decision.

At some point Winfrey is sure to bring her show to her own cable network, whether it's 2011 or 2012. But it's worth looking at who wins and loses if she pulls the talk show from syndication to OWN sooner rather than later.

The move would be a huge win for Discovery, which is partnering with Oprah on the network. The list of losers is longer. While CBS would be dealt the biggest blow, as it syndicates the show seen by seven million people daily, it's also bad for ABC'sowned and operated stations that make up the majority of Winfrey's station group. Losing Oprah would affect all the local stations that air Oprah ahead of the evening news, stealing the highly rated lead-in at a time when ad revenues are already suffering. Sony Television will also feel some pain as it has had success syndicating spin-offs like Dr. Oz.

While OWN could decide to syndicate the show, that's a long ways off still.

Of course launching Oprah's talk show in September 2011 would be an unrivalled draw to OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, which is now expected to debut in early 2010. The channel was announced in January 2008 by Discovery and Winfrey, to replace the struggling Discovery Health Channel, which has distribution to 70 million homes. The channel was originally scheduled to launch in mid-2009, but has been delayed due to the logistical challenges of launching a new channel. Just this week OWN hired Lisa Erspamer, one of the top execs from Oprah's TV show as "Chief Creative Officer." Erspamer's move west, and away from the day-to-day operations of the TV show, indicates that Oprah might be readying to shift her focus.

Discovery's CEO David Zaslav has expressed confidence to Wall Street analysts that OWN will ultimately get Oprah's show on the network as part of its core programming. Still, he hasn't said explicitly that this is happening in any specific time frame. Zaslav has reason to be confident; DISCA stock is up 100 percent year-to-date and analysts tell me it's outperforming the other strong cable properties in the space. At the same time, no CEO is really in a position to boss Oprah around; she's arguably the most powerful woman in media and one of the most powerful women in the U.S.

So if Oprah doesn't extend her contract for another year and leaves in 2011, how big of a hit will CBS' stock take? Standard & Poor's analyst Tuna Amobi says probably not much. Amobi tells me that while losing Oprah and her army of fans is a bad thing, CBS would still be "well rounded in syndication," so the news would be more of a "headline risk," than any real challenge to results.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.