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Oprah Prime Time Move Spells Trouble for Fox, CBS and ABC


When Oprah Winfrey talks, more than 7 million people listen every afternoon. But the doyen of the afternoon talk shows is planning to broadcast her last afternoon show late next year and she’s now announced plans on how she’s going to be spending her free time.

Beginning in January 2011, Oprah will host a new TV show on the Oprah Winfrey Network OWN, which she owns in a 50-50 joint venture with Discovery Communications, Inc. (DISCA). The program will be called ‘Oprah’s Next Chapter’ and will be a regular one-hour series in prime time. OWN reaches approximately 80 million US homes. The actual time slot was not announced.

The format for the show includes “more riveting conversations with the people we all want to hear from, in some very unexpected places.” Oprah plans to travel the world and talk to people. It sounds like a more sophisticated version of those reality shows where people run around trying to figure out where they are and how to get someplace else. The difference, of course, is that Winfrey, whose net worth is estimated to be around $2.3 billion, can afford to stay in first-class hotels and be driven around in chauffered limos. None of that grimy, sweaty stuff for her.

Other networks aren’t saying much yet, but they do have to pay attention to Winfrey. If she can develop a new kind of reality show that her main demographic (women aged 18-49) likes, then current network programming could really take a hit.

Fox, owned by News Corp. (NWS), gets around 20 million viewers a week for its Tuesday night ‘American Idol’ show. Direct competitors, the Disney Company’s (DIS) ABC show ‘Dancing with the Stars’ and the CBS (CBS) show ‘NCIS’ draw about 2 million and 4 million fewer viewers respectively. General Electric-owned (GE) NBC’s ‘Biggest Loser’ is an also-ran.

The prime time audience is much larger than the afternoon audience that Winfrey now dominates. Her new show, which apparently lacks the competitive element of ‘American Idol’ or ‘Dancing with the Stars’, is probably going to have to break some kind of new ground in order to be a success. And in her 25 years of afternoon TV, Winfrey has shown more than staying power, she found ways to extend her own popularity into a franchise.

If she can get her key demographic to influence the prime time key demographic (adults 18-49), she could enjoy tremendous success. Starting in January, we’ll see who controls the remote.

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