What has long been rumored is now official: The Oprah
Winfrey Show will depart daytime broadcast television come Sept. 9, 2011,
which now leaves syndicators and stations with several options to pursue.
According to many sources, executives at the ABC stations
that serve as Oprah's key station group have long said they will fill
the time slots by expanding their local news. The ABC stations remain strong--even
in today's tough environment--and are news leaders.
The fact is, Oprah
is extremely expensive--WABC pays $270,000 per week in license fees for the
show; KABC pays around $240,000 per week and WLS Chicago pays about $225,000
per week, according to station sources. If ABC replaced the show with news, it
could easily produce newscasts for much less than what it's paying for Oprah.
Even if the ABC stations' ratings dropped in the Oprah time slots, the cost
savings would likely make up for those declines.
In the past year, the entire industry has recognized that
CBS Television Distribution (CTD), Oprah's distributor, would not be
able to renew its contracts with stations at such high prices. Over the past
five years, the show's ratings have fallen 35% in households and 43% among
adults 18-49. That's in line with how much other talk shows (and daytime
television in general) have declined, but lower ratings makes it incredibly
difficult for already economically challenged stations to swallow such huge
"Television stations have made it crystal clear to CBS that
the show was going to get an enormous haircut if it comes back," says one
syndicator. "Why would she want to subject herself to that when she's in such
an iconic position and has a piece of OWN?"
If ABC does not decide to replace Oprah with local
news, syndicators will be falling over themselves to win those time slots,
which are some of the best in daytime and won't have been open for 25 years.
Moreover, ABC only accounts for ten markets. There are still 200 other TV
stations that will need to replace Oprah.
What stations will replace the show with is the question.
Not all stations have the strong news position of the ABC stations, and offering
more local news won't make sense for them. Moreover, too much news in a market
can mean too much advertising inventory in news, reducing the value of that
news inventory for all players.
Stations also are much weaker financially than they were in Oprah's
heyday, so whatever syndicated show gets the slots shouldn't expect to earn Oprah
Opening for ‘Oz'
Syndicators have been preparing for the day that Oprah goes
off the air for years, but fragmentation has made developing the next big
daytime hit tougher than ever. Winfrey's own production company, Harpo,
is one of syndication's most successful developers of syndicated shows. This
year's Dr. Oz, an Oprah spin-off, is the closest thing
syndication has seen to a first-run hit since 2002's Dr. Phil, another Oprah
spin-off. Sony's Dr. Oz now ties Disney-ABC's Live with Regis and
Kelly as the third-highest-ranked talk show at a 2.7 live-plus-same-day
household rating, according to Nielsen, third only to Oprah and Phil.
Dr. Oz has not been renewed for a second season yet,
and industry observers say that's because Sony has been waiting to see what
Winfrey would do. Now that Oprah is departing, the company can go to
work upgrading Oz and seeking higher license fees. Oz got its
start on the Fox stations in top markets, but the Fox stations are typically
unwilling to pay top dollar for syndicated fare. If other stations in those
markets step up, Fox might let Oz go, even though the show's ratings are
Winfrey's announcement also explains the timing of Harpo's
latest talker starring interior designer and Winfrey favorite Nate Berkus, who
has been in development on a show off-and-on since 2004. Sony just announced it
would be selling the show for next fall, surprising stations who thought the
show was on hold until 2011. But putting the show on the air next fall gives it
a bit of time to incubate.
Another potential heir to the Oprah throne is Warner
Bros.' Ellen DeGeneres, which airs on NBC stations in top markets. Even
if the show stays put on those stations, the popular Ellen will likely
benefit from less competition.
And CTD's Dr. Phil, which was just renewed out
through 2014, also stands to benefit from less Oprah. While Dr. Phil
does not compete head to head with Oprah because of contract
requirements, Phil could inherit the title of daytime's top talker if
the show's ratings stabilize.
In the meantime, syndicators have about a year to do battle
over the Oprah time slots. Stations tend to make deals for new fall
shows during the prior winter.
Interestingly, if Winfrey chooses to do some version of her
talk show on her new cable network, OWN, she could become her spin-offs'