How involved will Oprah be in her new cable TV channel, the Oprah Winfrey Network? Will she mostly be behind the scenes, calling the shots and making programming decisions? Or will she be on screen, hosting a show or appearing on others' shows?
That's a question mulled lightly by fans but quite seriously right now by the television executives at the Discovery Channel. OWN will go live in 2011 via the existing cable channel Discovery Health. And the Wall Street Journal reports this week that Discovery execs are talking to Oprah, trying to get an answer to those questions.
The level of Oprah's involvement, no surprise, likely will be directly proportionate to the success (at least initially) of the new channel. That's the big bet Oprah is making, anyway: that her mega-popularity via one daytime talk show can transition to an entire 24/7 cable network.
WSJ reports: "At an investor conference in San Francisco, [Brad Singer, chief financial officer with Discovery Communications Inc.] identified OWN as one of the company's most promising growth opportunities, but he said the key question of how much Winfrey herself will actually appear on the network is still being negotiated."
Oprah has a 50 percent stake in the new channel, so she has a big incentive to see it financially successful.
Part of that financial success might hinge on how much money the new channel can command from cable TV providers, like Comcast. If the Oprah Effect makes OWN more valuable than Discovery Health has been -- and it's hard to imagine that won't happen -- then Discovery can make providers pay more to include it in their lineups. Currently, for instance, providers pull 12 cents from each subscriber to "buy" the Discovery Health channel; The New York Times reports that OWN, with Oprah behind it, could command as much as 50 cents.
Translation: Oprah's helping to jack up your cable bill.
In the meantime, the question remains whether Oprah plans only to pull the strings on the new channel or to float through its programming with shows of her own, infomercials, guest appearances, what have you.
What would YOU like to see Oprah do on her new network?