by Patricia Sellers
After all, Oprah, who says she'll end her daytime show in September 2011, does things only one way: with her full self in the game.
What I know for sure (and she does too): Building a major cable network will take all of the most popular woman on TV.
When I spoke with Winfrey a year ago (on the afternoon of Election Day 2008, when she was flying high as Barack Obama was hours away from winning the Presidency), she told me about her plans to go into cable. We were talking because I was profiling Tom Freston, the former CEO of Viacom (VIAB), whom she had chased around the world--literally--trying to lure the peripatetic corporate refugee to run Harpo, her media conglomerate.
Winfrey, 55, didn't persuade Freston to become her CEO. But she did bring him on as a consultant to OWN, the cable network about empowerment and life purpose that she's now in the throes of developing. "I believe in signs," Winfrey told me that day, going on to explain how David Zaslav, the CEO of Discovery Communications (DISCA), first lured her to think about moving from broadcast to cable. Visiting her at her Harpo office in Chicago in May 2007, Zaslav said to her: "Today, there's MTV and CNN and Discovery and a few brands that will impact people in years ahead."
Zaslav, a former NBC Universal (GE) executive who was aiming to build his own legacy at Discovery, asked Winfrey to think about owning her own TV platform as a way to extend her presence after she's no longer here physically.
The "sign" Oprah saw? She grabbed Zaslav's hand, led him to her desk, and pulled a piece of paper from her drawer. On the piece of paper, she had written a note to herself, years earlier, plotting her own TV network: OWN: the Oprah Winfrey Network. This was the same name as Zaslav was suggesting she call her new channel.
And so it is OWN--a Los-Angeles-based venture that's been marked by repeated launch delays. In February, when I did the Freston story, the target date was early 2010; now it's January 2011.
Developing a new major network is no easy task. But OWN is taking over the prime TV "real estate" of Discovery Health, which will put it in 70 million homes at its start. That's a huge help. Still, it isn't as big a plus as OWN's No.1 asset: Oprah herself.
"I don't think you're going to have those anymore. Bigness isn't that great an asset anymore."
-- Tom Freston, former Viacom (VIAB) CEO, in a Reuters story about the waning influence of media moguls. These titans are being upstaged by the darlings of digital, like Facebook's Marc Zuckerberg and Twitter's Evan Williams. Old and new media alike are gathered this week at the Allen & Co. media summit in Sun Valley, MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Jul 9, 2009 6:27 PM ET
Here's the third and final segment of Tom Freston's 2007 commencement speech at Emerson College. In earlier posts, Viacom's (VIAB) former CEO shared career lessons and detailed the first two "things you're going to want to be able to say you've done if ever you are called upon to impart wisdom upon the young." Here are Nos. 3 and 4 on that list, along with Freston's warning about what could MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - May 29, 2009 12:02 PM ET
Here's part two of Tom Freston's 2007 commencement speech at Emerson College. In yesterday's post, the former Viacom (VIAB) CEO shared the story of the sudden turn in his storied media career. Here Freston explains the first two things "you're going to want to be able to say you've done if ever you are called upon to impart wisdom upon the young."
One. First and foremost: You're going to want to MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - May 28, 2009 12:24 PM ET
It's that time of year, so we're sharing one of our favorite commencement speeches with you: Tom Freston's 2007 address at Emerson College.
Pattie Sellers' exclusive profile of Freston, "The Most Wanted Man on the Planet," tells the story of a man who had built MTV and Viacom's (VIAB) vast cable empire, got fired by chairman Sumner Redstone, walked away with $60 million in severance -- and actually knew what MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - May 27, 2009 1:27 PM ET
I'm an optimist. Always have been. So take with a grain of salt--or sugar, perhaps--these signs of hope across the board:
1. Maybe print isn't dead. My new Kindle 2 makes me think that even though we may not be reading magazines and newspapers on paper a decade or two from now, long-form stories and beautiful page design can endure. (My Monday Postcard, "Amazon: Thinking beyond the Kindle," stirred debate about MOREPatricia Sellers - Apr 3, 2009 1:45 PM ET
Tech companies are rethinking their identities. IBM may buy Sun Microsystems. Cisco (CSCO) is moving into the server market, and also mightily into the consumer space. The latest move by Cisco CEO John Chambers--whose family reportedly owns eight Flip cameras--is a buyout of Pure Digital Technologies, which sells those ultra-simple videocameras. (I love mine.)
Powerful people are busy rethinking their identities too. My last two stories in Fortune are about ex-CEOs MOREPatricia Sellers - Mar 20, 2009 3:55 PM ET
This was a week for fallen heroes and flailing leaders.
On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner disappointed with too few details on the new bank bailout.
On Wednesday the bank CEOs got flogged in Washington - one more indignity after schlepping there on the Delta Shuttle or Amtrak's Acela.
President Obama scored with the $789 billion stimulus bill. But it emerged, after plenty of compromise, leaner than most economists had hoped for. Obama's MOREPatricia Sellers - Feb 13, 2009 3:45 PM ET
While the global economic crisis consumes our focus, did you realize that Afghanistan is sliding into greater chaos? Yesterday, on the eve of U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke's visit, Taliban suicide bombers and gunmen attacked three government sites in Kabul and killed 19 people.
Personally, the news out of Kabul captivates me because I've been there. It was January 2003, and I was part of the first official delegation of women - MOREPatricia Sellers - Feb 12, 2009 3:17 PM ET
Since Tom Freston got blown out of Viacom (VIAB) - ousted by hard-to-please chairman Sumner Redstone in 2006 - he's been doing lots of things that other ex-CEOs wouldn't fathom getting into. Working with Oprah Winfrey and Bono. Making films in Afghanistan, where he once lived. Funding humanitarian projects in Kabul and southeast Asia too.
You can read about all this in my profile of Freston in the current issue of MOREPatricia Sellers - Feb 11, 2009 1:43 PM ET
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