King World ups ‘Oprah’s’ price

TV stations wanting to keep top-rated talker Oprah Winfrey around had better be prepared to pony up some more cash and another minute of ad time.

That’s the word from King World, according to station clients of the firstrun syndication powerhouse.

But at least two group owners — Hearst Broadcasting and Group W — appear ready to go to war for the show in Boston and Pittsburgh, where both own stations.

King World wants to increase its take of ad time from two to three minutes per episode, meaning stations will get nine minutes to sell. It also wants to increase the license fee for the show to cover the additional costs of signing Winfrey through the year 2000. In year three of Winfrey’s new five-year pact, King World’s 43% cut of the operating profit from the show is expected to drop to the 25%-35% range.

Winfrey’s show accounts for more than 40% of King World’s operating cash flow.

In top markets such as New York and Los Angeles, stations pay over $ 160,000 per week for the show already. In other top 10 markets, the price range is $ 100 ,000-$ 125,000 per week.

King World, according to one source, could ask for increases of 10% to 25%, depending on market size and the strength of the show. In some markets, the fee could remain flat.

So far, at least one station has decided it would rather switch than pay. Scripps Howard-owned WMAR-TV made an offer to renew “Oprah” beyond September 1995, but it was not enough for King World.

“We gave them a proposal that offered significant license fee increases,” said WMAR general manager Joe Lewin, who concluded that “there are a lot of other options for a lot less money.” WMAR also passed on renewing King World’s “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!” when their contracts come up in September 1996.

But King World didn’t wait long to find a new home in Baltimore. Hearst Broadcasting-owned WBAL-TV grabbed the show.

Group W’s WJZ in Baltimore was said to be hot and heavy for the show, having had Winfrey’s show when she was local talent, but King World went with Hearst.

According to industry sources, Group W has been buying other King World product, including “American Journal” and “Rolonda,” in hopes that King World would steer “Oprah” to them in Boston and Baltimore. Group W already has the show in Pittsburgh.

But Hearst Broadcasting and King World are said to have a very close relationship, which means that “Oprah” could jump to Hearst’s station in Pittsburgh. A renewal in Boston is expected.

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