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Oprah Gets Her OWN Channel

Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Productions and Discovery Communications will begin OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, featuring her brand of feel-good empowerment. It will replace Discovery Health Channel in 2009. The new network will also include, Winfrey's popular Website.

OWN will benefit from the distribution muscle of Discovery Health's 70 million homes, but it needs to build up viewership. Health averages only 60,000 viewers in total-day viewing watched during 2007, and that was down 6% over last year.

In one year, Discovery CEO David Zaslav has altered the programmer's portfolio of networks, including relaunching Discovery Home as eco-themed Planet Green and starting a new crime/investigations channel, Investigation Discovery. He trimmed some 26% of the work force, closed its retail stores and spearheaded a move to take the company public. In December, John Malone's Discovery Holding and Advance/Newhouse Communications said they will combine their stakes to create a new holding company for the media conglomerate.

Most if not all Discovery Health programming will be scrapped when OWN debuts. Instead, Winfrey will serve as chairman of OWN and have full editorial control. Ownership is a 50-50 split between Discovery and Harpo Productions. Winfrey had once owned a stake in Oxygen Media, but she said Oxygen "did not reflect my voice." OWN, she said, will produce "the kinds of shows that make my heart sing" and feature "mindful, not mindless television" programs.

Winfrey is locked into her syndicated show through 2011. She is to decide by this fall if she wants to keep doing the show in syndication past that date. If not, presumably, she could move it to OWN.