The Wall Street JournalThe Queen of Daytime Is Becoming Nocturnal; A Big Bet for Her Network
America's daytime talk-show queen is heading out at night.
Oprah Winfrey plans to announce Thursday that she will host an evening show on her new cable network. The aptly named "Oprah's Next Chapter," an hourlong show, will probably debut late next year.
Ms. Winfrey's new show, which could air as many as two or three times a week, will take Ms. Winfrey out of the studio setting that has been her home for nearly 25 years and follow her around the globe for conversations in places such as Egypt and China. "I'm going to take viewers with me, going to take celebrities I want to interview with me" around the world, Ms. Winfrey said in an interview.
The larger task will be taking advertisers and viewers along to the new Oprah Winfrey Network, or OWN. Ms. Winfrey right now has a vast audience, many women at home during the day, who follow by the millions her every tip on what to read, eat, wear, and buy. But the new network will be programming 24 hours a day. And Ms. Winfrey herself will face a formidable lineup of evening reality shows. Some, like NBC's "The Biggest Loser," CBS's "Undercover Boss," or Fox's "American Idol," include the inspirational and instructional tales that Ms. Winfrey excels at.
The new show is one of more than a dozen programs that OWN has lined up as it moves toward its scheduled debut on Jan. 1. A 50-50 joint venture between Ms. Winfrey's Harpo Inc. and cable programmer Discovery Communications Inc., the new network plans to give a detailed look at its shows in a presentation to advertisers Thursday.
"Oprah's Next Chapter" is a crucial ingredient for the new network. Ms. Winfrey, 56 years old, has until now said little publicly about her on-air role at OWN after "The Oprah Winfrey Show" ends in 2011. "Having Oprah on the network in a meaningful way is important," said David Zaslav, Discovery's chief executive.
Ms. Winfrey said she also may appear in other OWN shows including a possible book-club show. "My name's going to show up on that grid a lot," she said.
The new slate of shows is part of OWN executives' efforts to translate Ms. Winfrey's popular brand of personal uplift into the mold of a 24-hour television network. A reality series about country singer Shania Twain will follow her recovery from a broken marriage. A competition series from "Survivor" producer Mark Burnett will search for a new TV-show star among Ms. Winfrey's legions of fans.
Ms. Winfrey's embrace of cable reflects a broader shift in the television business. Buoyed by billions of dollars from satellite and cable subscribers' monthly bills, cable networks have become profit engines of the business. Meanwhile, local television stations, which long paid handsomely for programs like "The Oprah Winfrey Show," have seen their business decline.
Ms. Winfrey has one of the most powerful brands in media. Her magazine, "O, The Oprah Magazine," published with Hearst Corp., is one of the most popular in the U.S., and her book club has minted dozens of best-sellers. But as broadcast TV has sagged, so has her audience. Her weekday show averaged about 6.7 million viewers so far this TV season, according to Nielsen Co., down from more than 10 million in the early 1990s.
Ms. Winfrey has been closely involved in strategy and planning for OWN and its shows, according to people familiar with the matter. "I am hands on, digging in there, looking through every tape," Ms. Winfrey said. "I'm not just up to my knees. I'm up to my thighs."
Her longtime producer is the network's new chief creative officer. Last week, Ms. Winfrey spent two days working at OWN's Los Angeles headquarters, where green and orange walls are adorned with inspirational phrases including, "Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly."
OWN began taking shape more than two years ago in conversations between Ms. Winfrey and Discovery's Mr. Zaslav. She was looking for her next step. He was looking for something compelling to do with the little-watched Discovery Health network, which is in about 74 million U.S. homes, according to media researcher SNL Kagan.
OWN's launch has been pushed back since the venture was announced in January 2008. One person familiar with the matter attributed the delays, in part, to waiting for Ms. Winfrey to decide the extent of her on-air role. Ms. Winfrey said that wasn't the case, and said assembling the right staff and programming tone has taken time.
"It has been more difficult building a team from scratch than I realized it would be," Ms. Winfrey said.
"Start-ups are hard, for sure," said Christina Norman, the former MTV president who was named OWN's chief executive in January 2009. "I think it's always a challenge to find the right groove," she said.
Discovery is wagering $100 million on OWN. The Silver Spring, Md., company has promised to lend that much in start-up costs through September 2011 and has sunk in $35 million through Dec. 31, according to securities filings. Discovery will also contribute Discovery Health, replacing it with OWN when the new network goes live on Jan. 1. Ms. Winfrey, for her part, is contributing her Oprah.com site to the venture.
Ms. Winfrey's public role in OWN could help it begin nailing down advertising deals. Buyers say that OWN is looking to sign on several major advertisers for multiyear partnerships that would include both advertising and product integrations in shows. The network is asking between $10 million and $15 million for those packages, a person familiar with the matter said.
For several months, OWN has been working to finalize an elaborate advertising and sponsorship pact with Procter & Gamble Co., but talks have bogged down in part over price, according to people familiar with the matter. One person familiar with the talks pegged the value of the package at well over $20 million.
The network is using Ms. Winfrey's ability to attract high-profile talent. One OWN series, "Visionaries: Inside the Creative Mind," will highlight pop musician Lady Gaga and movie director James Cameron, among others. Another show, "Master Class," will feature people like former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and musician Jay-Z relaying life stories and lessons directly into the camera.
Jay-Z, whose real name is Shawn Carter, said Ms. Winfrey asked him to participate during a phone call. "I didn't even think about it," Mr. Carter said last month. "I just said 'yes.'"
OWN's Ms. Norman has been working with her staff to assemble about 1,200 hours of original and acquired programming for the first year on the air. One focus has been keeping the right tone, she said. "The hard thing for us internally as we talk about these themes has been that they're not spinach," she said. "The job is to crack open these great ideas and make them accessible to everyone, and make them entertaining."
Ms. Winfrey echoed that idea, saying, "If it's going to be spinach, it needs a little truffle salt."