Last week, Oprah Winfrey bid a tearful farewell to her show, telling viewers that she will end her run on syndicated television in 2011. She said that the reason she's leaving is that 25 years are enough, but plenty of industry scuttlebutt contradicts her. Discovery Networks has been working with her on a new cable network, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), which will replace Discovery Health in 2011. The launch of OWN has already been delayed twice, and there's been a revolving door in the management suite, with most executives only lasting a few months.
The oft-repeated rumor is that David Zaslav, President & CEO of Discovery, read her the riot act: Bring her show to OWN and help to get the operation under control, or lose the network. The first shoe dropped a couple of weeks ago, when she sent some of her top managers to take over key positions in OWN, and the second shoe dropped last Friday, with her announcement that she'll be leaving her syndicated show. Zaslav's ultimatum may not have been THE reason why she's leaving her syndicated show, but it's a pretty good reason nonetheless.
The question is, what is she going to? Women's networks on Cable have had an upward struggle: Oxygen, in which Winfrey was a partner, launched with high audience expectations that were never met, and ended up being sold to NBC Universal. Will OWN fare any better? Unless it pursues a radically different model than that of today's cable networks, it won't. That's the topic of my next entry.