CBS Television Distribution's The Oprah Winfrey Show will depart broadcast syndication and move to Winfrey's new cable network, OWN, when the show's contract expires in 2011, according to a report published by Deadline Hollywood Daily's Nikki Finke. That report is in line with what Discovery chief David Zaslav had said nearly one year ago to the day.
On Thursday afternoon executives tied to the show were issuing a round of statements saying nothing has been finalized.
OWN and Harpo, Winfrey's production company, both said that Winfrey would make an announcement before the end of the year, as previously stated. "She has not made a decision yet," said a Harpo spokesman.
Executives at CTD, which distributes the show, said they have no knowledge of any decision. "Nothing has changed. The decision is Oprah's to make. As we have stated repeatedly, we love Oprah and if she wants to continue her show then we want to continue to be in business with her," says a CTD spokesman.
But this is not the first time Oprah execs have dealt with the expectation the talker would jump to OWN.
Back in November, Discovery Chief David Zaslav used Discovery's first-ever earnings call to tell analysts: "The current expectation is that after fall 2011 her show will go off of ... syndication, and she will come to OWN," the cable network that Winfrey's production company, Harpo, is creating in conjunction with Discovery.
If Oprah moves from syndication to OWN, which is currently distributed in 70 million homes as the Discovery Health Network, it should spur OWN's distribution. OWN is currently slated to launch sometime in 2010, and an OWN spokeswoman said that an announcement about that would also be made before the end of the year.
Finke reported Thursday that OWN will not launch until 2011. OWN was originally supposed to launch this year, but has struggled to ramp up. On Wednesday, the network announced that Lisa Erspamer, Oprah co-executive producer, would become OWN's chief creative officer and relocate to Los Angeles.
For syndicators and stations that air the show, the Oprah move would be both good and bad news.
Oprah is one of syndication's most expensive programs, and many stations have said they are not willing to renew the show at current prices. Sources have also reported that the ABC Television Stations, which form Oprah's key group in major markets, would be likely to fill Oprah's slot with expanded newscasts should the show go off the air.
Meanwhile, Sony's Dr. Oz, which Harpo launched as a spin-off from Oprah, has opened to strong numbers and would be in contention to fill those slots.
Still, for distributors, the loss of Oprah means the loss of one of the industry's biggest money-makers, even in environment where ratings are down.