Oprah’s Cable Channel Flickers to Life

At precisely 12 o’clock on New Year’s Day, Oprah Winfrey welcomed television viewers to OWN, a cable channel that she has said will espouse her “live your best life” mantra.

OWN, short for The Oprah Winfrey Network, flickered to life in about 85 million television households in the United States, replacing the Discovery Health Channel. It is the highest-profile new cable channel in over a decade, and it represents an enormous risk for Ms. Winfrey, who is ending her daytime talk show later in the year.

“Happy New Year,” Ms. Winfrey said, “and welcome to OWN.”

“This, as you can imagine, is a very exciting day for me, kicking off the next chapter of my life with all of you,” she said in an introduction taped in Chicago in November. The introduction previewed some of OWN’s shows, like “Oprah Presents Master Class,” featuring the life lessons of celebrities; “In the Bedroom With Laura Berman,” about couples’ sex lives; and “Your OWN Show: Oprah’s Search for the Next TV Star,” a competition show.

The channel will essentially play a highlight reel this weekend in the hopes that viewers will come back for specific shows on a regular basis. The normal schedule will start on Jan. 3.

“I look at this launch as the birthing of a baby, not the raising of a child,” Ms. Winfrey said in an interview last month, clearly managing expectations about the early days of the channel.

“It’s a long-term process,” she said, “and I have the vision to see what this network can be in 3 years, in 5 years, in 10 years, as an institution of hope and inspiration.”

OWN is getting attention in part because Ms. Winfrey is a media mogul like no other, and in part because the end of her talk show and the start of her channel symbolize a gradual shift to cable from broadcast.

“OWN is the first network, other than maybe the Disney Channel, that is really built around the worldview of a person,” Tom Freston, the former chief executive of Viacom and now an adviser to OWN.

The move from Discovery Health to OWN appeared to happen relatively smoothly, though there were sporadic complaints on Twitter that OWN was not showing up as expected on some Comcast cable line-ups. Some other viewers bemoaned the fact that they could not watch in high-definition.

Peter Liguori, the chief operating officer of Discovery, said in an interview last month that turning over a channel is “not as easy as it looks.”

“People have sacrificed a lot to get this network up and running,” he said. “It does take a village.”

In Los Angeles, where OWN is based, Ms. Winfrey held a celebratory brunch for the staff Saturday morning. Shortly before the East Coast premiere of the channel, she thanked Mr. Freston, the OWN chief executive Christina Norman, and the Discovery Communications chief executive David Zaslav, according to a person in attendance. Then she quoted something that the television host Suze Orman had told her: “After I’m gone, and all of us are gone, OWN will live on, and on, and on – and having that lasting impact is mighty.”

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