TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Kai Ryssdal: You’ve got your media superstars. You’ve got your business moguls. And then you’ve got Oprah. She’s practically created a category all her own. That’s why reports she might leave broadcast television are being taken seriously. Speculation is that the Queen of Daytime will take her show to her new cable channel – OWN – the Oprah Winfrey Network. Oprah’s said she’ll decide by the end of this year if she’s saying bye bye to broadcast.
We’ve called Bill Carter from the New York Times to talk about the risks and rewards. Good to have you with us.
Bill Carter: Great to be with you Kai.
Ryssdal: This rumor about Oprah going to her own network has been around for a while. Any more weight to it now?
Carter: Well, I think the fact that she actually has started up a cable network gives it a little more credibility. I mean, you have to remember though that Oprah, each time her contract comes up, seems to put out the word that she’s either going to stop doing it or move somewhere else or something like that. So, she has a history of kind of using this as a negotiation ploy. In this case, it’s a little different though, because she really does have this new outlet to go to.
Ryssdal: If she does go to her own network, what happens to those she left behind? It’s the CBS Distribution Group and then those ABC stations that air her everyday.
Carter: I think they’re both going to be hurting. I mean, CBS syndication does not have anything, anywhere remotely as profitable as the Oprah Winfrey Show, so it would be impossible to replace it. I think what would have tremendous impact at ABC, because they’ve always had Oprah as their late afternoon lead-in to local news, which has helped the ABC network newscasts as well. There’s no other show that can replace that, the 7 or 8 million viewers that Oprah brings every week.
And in terms of just sheer advertising revenue, I think they’ll take a very big hit. So there’d be a significant loss.
Ryssdal: Not that she necessarily needs any more money, but what about her self, personal?
Carter: Well, I mean, the thing about Oprah, there’s no way to calculate how much money she’s made. It’s just so extremely huge. But I think she also likes being a big player on the national and cultural scene and she would have to weigh the impact of moving to cable. Because, she’s had a very hot year, getting people like Whitney Houston, she’s got Sarah Palin coming up with her new book. She gets those guests, because of the power of her show. And you’d have to wonder if she’d get them if she was on cable. She’s still Oprah, she’s still going to get big people, but her profile would definitely be diminished. A lot of people have brought up the Howard Stern example, saying, here is a national figure on radio, went to a small outlet and now seems to have very little impact. I don’t know if that would be the same with Oprah. She’s a real crossover figure, but I think it might give her pause.
Ryssdal: Is she big enough to get people to subscribe to cable just to get her show?
Carter: It’s not a question of people subscribing to cable, because there’s plenty of people that subscribe to cable, so that’s plenty of reach. The problem is, a lot of people have decided, “Oh wow, I’ll go into cable, I’ll start a channel” and then they get into the digital tier and nobody ever watches them. So I think she’d have to be concerned about that.
Ryssdal: What about the upside for ABC and CBS? It’s got to be expensive, right, for them to buy this and distribute it and all that stuff.
Carter: Oh yeah. Look, it’s very expensive. Oprah takes the biggest chunk for herself, as she should, but they’re all making money. They’ve been making a lot of money off Oprah for all of this time. Believe me, if they weren’t making money on it, they wouldn’t so afraid to lose her. You know, it came up in an earnings call, CBS Corp., yesterday, it was second question: “What happens if you lose Oprah Winfrey?” It’s really important to them.
Ryssdal: Bill Carter, covers television for the New York Times. Bill thanks a lot.
Carter: Great to be with you.