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Oprah's Departure: Doomsday For Broadcast TV?

oprah

If I hadn’t known about Oprah’s announcement before waking up to a WNYC Radio listener roundup of “what Oprah has meant to me,” – honestly, I would’ve thought she died. Of course, the impetus for the wave of coverage was not a tragic event, but merely her tearful disclosure that she will end her daily talk show within two years, in September 2011.

But for CBS, which syndicates the show, and ABC, whose stations carry it, Oprah’s move actually is a bit like a death in the family. In fact, it’s an overall blow for broadcast television and its ad-supported business model. CBS’s statement, which affirmed that it’s looking forward to the next several years, “and hopefully afterwards,” read like a plea for her to change her mind, and who can blame them? Oprah’s reason for turning out the lights after 25 extraordinary years is to concentrate more fully on her next big venture – the Oprah Winfrey cable network, or OWN.

(I can’t help but wonder about the much-publicized ancient Mayan calendar predictions that the world will end by 2012. Is Oprah preparing for the end? Or, is life without a daily dose of Oprah the apocalypse itself?)

There’s no doubt that Oprah’s departure is another sign of the growing dominance of cable television. But, to date, the plans for OWN are murky. It was originally announced in 2007 and was meant to debut last year, but it was stalled amidst executive turnover and lack of focus. Even now it’s not clear what Oprah’s role in front of the camera will be, if any. She’s told staffers that she will not simply move the show to cable, but rather will produce programming that might involve occasional appearances.

So, there’s another side to Oprah’s decision.What will happen to her influence once she’s no longer a weekday presence in our lives? Naturally, her media empire is far larger than her talk show, and her brand larger still. Yet, the show has been a powerful platform. It may be a relief for some PR people (see previous post), but the ramifications of a (broadcast) world without Oprah are as huge as her impact…including for her.

I can’t help but wonder if her diminished TV presence could also dim the influence of the woman who persuaded so many about so much – from trying Twitter to picking our president.

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Comments

  1. Evan B

    The beleagured book industry, already worried about the effects of e-books, price wars and diminishing interest in reading as a leisure activity, now gets something else to worry about. Oprah has been a great proponent for reading and literacy. What will happen once she is “retired”? Will she continue to promote reading? Will another celebrity step up to the plate to take her place? Much has been made of her generosity and philanthropy, but her contribution to reading has been perhaps her greatest gift of all.

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