Cable networks shine with stars, Conan, Oprah

Fri Nov 12, 2010 5:53pm EST
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By Jennifer Saba

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Once considered the backwater of television, cable networks have in recent years become the brightest stars in the media business, bringing their owners outsized profits and attracting some of today's biggest names in showbiz.

The latest migration: Conan O'Brien took his talk show style and young audience from NBC to TBS. Next up, Oprah Winfrey launches an entire cable network, OWN, in 2011.

The three hottest entertainment companies on Wall Street are Discovery Communications, Scripps Networks Interactive and Viacom Inc.. Their stock prices are all up 25 percent or more this year.

Not one of them owns a broadcast network; rather they're home to cable channels such as the Food Network, Animal Planet, Travel Channel, and Comedy Central.

But with cable's expansion come challenges that include differentiating networks in a multi-channel universe and, as with the broadcast networks, keeping youthful audiences tuned-in amid a number of entertainment options from movies to videogames, social networking and others.

"What we are doing is trying to find audiences who are passionate," said Peter Liguori, chief operating officer of Discovery Communications, which will partner with Winfrey in the OWN network.

OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network will include a mix of shows offering entertainment and information as well as a reality-based series, "Your Own Show: Oprah's Search for the Next TV Star".

There is no doubt about cable's success in the past decade as shows such as HBO's "The Sopranos" or AMC's "Mad Men" won over critics and fans, and specialty networks like all-sports channel ESPN became juggernauts for profits.   Continued...

<p>Oprah Winfrey speaks after accepting the Minerva award at "The Women's Conference 2010" in Long Beach, California October 26, 2010. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>