Shaping a Network With Oprah’s View

Business Day
Media & Advertising ~ THE NEW YORK TIMES


For decades cable channels have been built around specific interests like news, sports or classic movies. Beginning this weekend, there will be something altogether different: a cable channel shaped around a person, Oprah Winfrey.

David Zaslav is president and chief executive of Discovery Communications.
The channel, called OWN, short for the Oprah Winfrey Network, will depend in part on Ms. Winfrey’s powerful role as a tastemaker for her millions of fans.

When it starts Saturday at noon, the network will essentially be recommending Oprah-branded programs the way she recommends books on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

“This network will be mind- and heart-food for people,” Ms. Winfrey said in an interview.

Her network is also the most-watched experiment in the television industry. Ms. Winfrey is taking an enormous risk by ending her 25-year-old broadcast talk show in 2011 and moving to cable, hoping that her viewers will move with her. Whether they watch or not, they’ll be paying for it: OWN is expected to eventually earn 25 cents a month in subscriber fees from each of the 85 million households it will serve.

OWN is not just a symbolic move to cable from broadcast. It is also a bet by Ms. Winfrey and her backers at Discovery Communications that media will be more personalized in the future — beginning with a channel built around one of the biggest personalities in the world.

“OWN is the first network, other than maybe the Disney Channel, that is really built around the worldview of a person,” said Tom Freston, the former chief executive of Viacom and now an adviser to Ms. Winfrey’s network.

OWN executives say Ms. Winfrey’s worldview, “Live your best life,” will be espoused by the dozen programs that will premiere in the channel’s first few months.


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