Oprah, Discovery to Form Cable Net

NEW YORK Oprah Winfrey’s media empire just expanded its borders, as the popular daytime talk-show host is getting set to launch her own cable network.

In a deal announced early Tuesday afternoon, Winfrey has forged an alliance with Discovery Communications, inking a pact with the cable powerhouse that will transform Discovery Health Channel into OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network.

The network is slated to launch in the second half of 2009. Under terms of the partnership, Winfrey will serve as chairman of OWN, a 50/50 ownership split between Discovery and her media company, Harpo Productions.

As chairman, Winfrey will have full editorial oversight of the new venture, a lifestyle property that Discovery said would be “designed to entertain, inform and inspire people to live their best lives.” Further details about OWN and the partnership are expected later today, when the two entities will hold a media conference to discuss the terms of the deal.

One program that is not likely to appear on OWN in its first few years of operations is Winfrey’s one-hour syndicated show, which has existing contracts in place with TV stations through the 2011 season.

The search for a CEO for OWN will begin immediately, Discovery said.

The deal marks the second time Winfrey has made a foray into developing a cable network. In 2000, the media maven was a key investor in the launch of Oxygen, which was sold to NBC Universal late last year.

Discovery Health launched in August 1999 and now reaches some 68 million U.S. households.