* Early talks about launching Oprah Winfrey network abroad
* Execs confident it "will do well" in certain markets
* Plans expected to firm up later this year
By Paul Thomasch
NEW YORK, April 15 Three months after Oprah
Winfrey's cable television channel premiered in the United
States, preparations are underway to introduce the network to
Executives from Discovery Communications Inc (DISCA.O), a
co-owner of the network, said early discussions have been held
with distributors in foreign markets, adding that they expected
talks to turn more serious later in the year.
"We're confident there are markets it will do well in,"
Mark Hollinger, who heads up Discovery's international
business, said at a presentation on Friday. "We're confident
there will be an international launch of the channel."
Hollinger declined to identify countries in the expansion
plan. Other than the United States, the Oprah Winfrey Network
can currently be seen only in Canada. [ID:nN14158184]
"We've said, 'Let's focus on the U.S. for now; we'll tend
to this a little later this year,'" Hollinger said.
A joint venture between Discovery and Oprah Winfrey's
production company, OWN launched in the United States early
this year as a largely female-oriented network with a
combination of lifestyle, advice and uplifting shows. Ratings
have been mixed so far.
But Winfrey, regarded as the most influential woman on U.S.
television, is expected to devote more energy to OWN in the
coming months after the last original episode of her popular
syndicated TV show, "The Oprah Winfrey Show," airs on May 25.
Discovery's international plans for OWN are part of its
increasing effort to build up its business abroad. Chief
Executive David Zaslav spends up to 40 percent his time outside
the United States, he said, visiting markets such as Chile,
Romania, Russia and India.
His efforts are shifting the financial balance of
Discovery. Five years ago, only 10 percent of its business came
from overseas markets. Today, around one-third of its does.
Given the rapid subscriber growth in developing markets,
Zaslav said he would not be surprised if the company reached a
"tipping point" in several more years that would make the
international business bigger than the domestic.
"These are markets that feel like the U.S. 10 years ago,"
he said, a period he described as a "perfect storm" for the
business when audience ratings, subscriber numbers, and
spending on cable advertising were booming.
An added advantage for Discovery is that many of its
adventure and science shows seem tailor-made for international
audiences, since they usually avoid inside jokes or cultural
references that can make comedies or dramas tricky to export.
The result is that much of Discovery's budget -- it now
spends $1 billion a year on content -- can be used for shows
that play both in the United States and abroad. By contrast,
said Hollinger, other media companies operating abroad "have to
produce all of their content on a local level or acquire it."
An area Discovery is approaching more cautiously is 3-D.
While it has launched a full-time 3-D U.S. TV network, it has
no current plans to follow suit overseas, executives said.
"Right now, it may be that in a lot of markets a full
channel is not the route to take," said Hollinger, adding that
video-on-demand 3-D would be more likely.
(Reporting by Paul Thomasch; Editing by Richard Chang)