Onward Oprah

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Come on now. You didn't think Oprah Winfrey would really go away. But where she'll go while under her new two-year contract with King World, is definitely something to think about.


Oprah
's core ABC O & O station base has every reason to accept King World's new terms to carry through the show through 2004. The talker's price tag will change-"we'll ask for a fair increase on [the license fee]," insists the distributor's chairman Roger King-but
Oprah

is still a "no-duh" good buy.

Produced by Winfrey-managed Harpo Productions, the show runs over the ratings of her nearest chat competitor on a weekly basis by about 65%, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Confirms an ABC representative, "We have had a long relationship with
Oprah

and King World, and we hope that it will continue for many years to come."

Maybe. However, it's not far-fetched for the CBS O & O's to make a play for
Oprah
, considering the stations are now closely tied with King World via last year's merger.

"I think anyone would have to take a look at the property. I assure you that we'll be talking about it," says one source close to CBS. "
Oprah

is a business in and of itself, and anyone who dismisses it would be foolish."

Locking
Oprah

into the late afternoon dayparts would certainly be a boon to CBS stations, providing a "halo effect going into local newscasts," says the source, speaking of top cities where CBS often trails its market rivals.

And King acknowledges that "when you have a show as powerful as
Oprah Winfrey,

you have other stations that want it." However, he maintains that "the clients that have been good for us for years will have the first crack at any of our renewals. We go back to the incumbent 100% of the time."

Yet King says that if he can't iron out the renewal, then "we'll open up the market and talk to everyone. If there's more than one station [group], we'll ask them to bid."

It's estimated that
Oprah

represented half of King World's entire $210 million cash flow in 1999. In just Los Angeles, sources say the company rakes in about $250,000 a week, or about $13 million a year, in license fees.

For her last two-year deal through 2002, it was said that Winfrey was guaranteed $150 million. Now sources say she'll grab $165 million, or about 10% more, through 2004, but King denies financially restructuring her contract.

"Most ABC stations lose money for what they pay vs. what they take in. But having that
Oprah

factor is pretty overwhelming for your programming," says the CBS source. If King World was selling, he deadpanned, "We would return the phone call."

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