Summit News

Disney in no hurry on Oprah decision

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Walt Disney Co DIS.N can wait 12 to 15 months before deciding from among a "myriad" of possibilities on how to replace reigning daytime TV talk show queen Oprah Winfrey when she ends her show in 2011, said Disney/ABC Television Group President Anne Sweeney.

“Oprah has given us two years’ notice, which is not something you generally see in television,” Sweeney said at the Reuters Global Media Summit on Monday. “We are certainly in the process right now of reviewing our options.”

Sweeney, who is also co-chair of Disney Media Networks and oversees the ABC Television Network, described Oprah as “one of a kind” but nonetheless said she could foresee many ways to replace the TV star.

“No one expected her to come on the scene 25 years ago,” said Sweeney. “So I think it’s really going to be interesting to see who comes forward.”

Winfrey will end her show to focus on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, a cable channel to be launched in partnership with Discovery Communications Inc DISCA.O.

Analysts say Disney and its ABC stations, which carry the show, could lose out financially from Oprah’s decision. The show’s large audiences have long boosted ratings and advertising for the stations and their local newscasts that follow it.

“I think it’s going to be really interesting to see who comes forward and who emerges during this time as the next great idea, personality and then the next great piece of programing,” she said.

Sweeney declined to comment on any specific replacements for Winfrey’s show, which airs weekdays.

“It’s a matter of understanding the marketplace and thinking about what it’s going to look like in two years and what is the best thing that you could be programing at that hour for consumers, and I think it’s going to vary station to station,” she said.

Oprah Winfrey arrives at the "Precious" film screening during the 34th Toronto International Film Festival, September 13, 2009. REUTERS/Mark Blinch


Sweeney also talked about a range of issues facing the television industry, from singer Adam Lambert’s controversial performance on an awards show to advertising and the quickly evolving market for distributing content via television, cable and the Web.

During ABC’s live broadcast of the American Music Awards on November 22, Lambert simulated oral sex on-stage with a backup dancer, kissed a man and gave the middle finger to the audience.

ABC edited his performance during the West Coast broadcast of the night-time awards show, and later canceled a scheduled November 25 appearance by Lambert -- the runner-up on this year’s “American Idol” -- on the “Good Morning America” program.

Sweeney said the controversy caused Disney to review the steps it takes to vet live performances by getting assurances from artists that their stage shows will resemble their rehearsals, and using contractual obligations to hold them to that.

“We certainly don’t want to suppress artistry at any level, but we also have to be very cognizant of who our audience is,” Sweeney said.

She added that it was the right decision for ABC to cancel Lambert’s scheduled performance on “Good Morning America,” noting that many children watch the morning news show.

“We really had to take the decision very seriously and found that his performance was very unpredictable at night and (we) didn’t know what to expect in the morning,” she said.

Disney said in mid-November that the market for last-minute TV commercial spots is 20 percent stronger than it was during the upfront negotiations in the spring, when longer-term advertising deals were signed.

“I think it’s reflective of certainly a little more heat in the economy and great programing,” Sweeney said of the 20 percent increase. “Companies are showing up who (had) cut their spending last year,” she said, citing more advertising by auto and retail companies.

When asked whether the relative strength was sustainable, Sweeney said: “We certainly hope so.”

Disney has been moving aggressively to provide content on various platforms to reach an increasingly fragmented audience used to getting entertainment through multiple channels, from the Web to broadcast TV, cable and mobile devices.

“You come to realize very quickly that all these platforms are very different. Sometimes they’re being used or accessed by different demographics,” Sweeney said, adding that her own 19-year-old daughter did not want to take a television to college.

“She said: ‘Mom, you don’t understand; I don’t need it.’ I said: ‘You’re going to have a television if I have to nail it to your wall. You have to have one,’” Sweeney recalled.

Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis and Paul Thomasch, editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Dave Zimmerman