Welcome to a special edition of T Dog’s Four Pack (special because this is a bit serious in tone.) On Thursday, Oprah Winfrey announced she was leaving her syndicated daytime talk show after 25 years and ending the program on September 9, 2011. She is focusing on launching her new cable network with Discovery Communications, which goes live in January 2011.
Her move will drastically alter the television landscape in a generation. So, let’s break down the winners and losers:
-Oprah Winfrey herself. Of course. The queen of talk leaves on top of the daytime talk heap, going out on her own terms.
– Discovery Communications and Cable TV in general. With Oprah Winfrey on board, Discovery Communications’ profile has risen significantly – and so has basic cable’s. Landing one of the biggest names in television isn’t bad for a form of television whose original claim of fame was Farieie Tale Theater and The New Leave It To Beaver – the shows airing at the time Oprah premiered.
– NATPE. With Oprah out of the picture, NATPE will be in for an attendance boost as stations and syndicators will be looking for the next talk show sensation This means a brighter outlook for the beleaguered television convention, which has slumped in recent years. In addition, Oprah has a second late-night run in many markets – including Chicago, which would mean even better news for syndicators looking to launch late-night projects in 2011.
However, some stations (notably the ABC O&Os) may expand local news instead in those early fringe time slots now occupied by Oprah – rather than depend on expensive syndicated fare.
– Jimmy Kimmel. As far as Chicago is concerned. Oprah’s depature from syndication means that Kimmel’s late-night show – which has been delayed an hour by WLS-TV (a rarity for an O&O to do) until midnight or later because of a second airing of Oprah’s show – will now air at the network-mandated time of 11:05 p.m – assuming Kimmel’s show lasts beyond 2011.
A free, extra item: Existing syndicated fare. You get an extra item in the winners’ pack: If stations decide not to fill the vacant hour with news or other local programming, they can upgrade existing syndicated programming into the time slot with fare including Ellen, The Doctors, Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, and several courtroom shows. The move would be great news to Warner Bros. and even CBS Television Distribution, who is losing Oprah.
– CBS Television Distribution. On the other hand, with stations no longer willing to pay top licensing fees for her show, CBS loses some revenue – and a little oomph in the syndication business. Not only that, contracts will be up soon for the company’s two other longtime successes – Wheel of Fortune and Jeporady! in 2012. Will stations walk away from those two older-skewing shows as well? We’ll see.
– ABC O&Os and other stations who carry Oprah. Maybe. Without Oprah’s strong lead-in, there might be some ratings realignment in several markets – particularly in larger markets where ABC owns stations with the rights to Oprah.
On the other hand, some stations have been successful without Oprah, and since the ABC O&Os are strong – even the loss of her might not affect them too much. This fear was prevalent at Denver’s KUSA-TV in 1989 when the then-ABC affiliate lost The Oprah Winfrey Show to then-CBS affiliate (now ABC affiliate) KMGH-TV, which was a distant third in the ratings.
The results? Gannett-owned KUSA (which became an NBC affiliate in 1995 due to a three-way network station swap) saw in news ratings remain constant and is stilll a powerful number one, though the ratings race has tightened. Oprah flopped on KMGH (it was even beaten in the ratings by KUSA’s 4 p.m. news at one point) and later moved to KCNC-TV, Denver’s CBS O&O.
In Raleigh-Durham, CBS affiliate WRAL-TV – a news and sign-on/sign-off powerhouse – regularly beats Oprah on ABC O&O WTVD at 4 p.m. with a same-day delayed airing of The Young and The Restless.
– The City of Chicago. With The Oprah Winfrey Show ending its run, the city and the businesses who operate in the West Loop near her Harpo Studios stand to lose revenue, especially from tourists who come in from out of town to see her show – not to mention some prestige on the world stage. The city’s TV and film industry would also take another major hit. Earlier this year, The Jerry Springer Show and The Steve Wilkos Show exited Chicago to move to Stamford, Conn. to take advantage of tax breaks. Oprah’s exit means for the first time since the early 1970’s – when Phil Donahue moved his nationally syndicated show from Dayton, Ohio to Chicago – there will be no major syndicated talk shows taped here – leaving us with only courtroom shows Judge Greg Mathis and Judge Jeanne Pirro – which are taped at the same studio at the NBC Tower.
– Broadcast television in general. With Ms. Winfrey leaving free, over-the-air TV for the riches of cable, the prestige of broadcast television also takes a hit. With politicians talking about taking away the broadcast spectrum broadcast television uses for wireless broadband, more and more viewers turning to online streaming and video on-demand, local stations’ revenue plummeting, CTV in Canada talking about closing local stations if it doesn’t get retransmission content fees from cable operators, and Comcast’s impending takeover of NBC, over-the-air television broadcasting may just be even more endangered than radio is. Losing Oprah doesn’t help matters much.