Key distrib deal set for net's Jan. 1 launch

Just in time for its Jan. 1 launch, the Oprah Winfrey Network closed a gaping hole in its distribution base by cutting a carriage deal with Cablevision that was announced on Tuesday.

Cablevision had not previously carried the Discovery Health channel, which will morph into OWN, a joint venture of Winfrey and Discovery Communications, on Saturday.

The Cablevision gap in the launch base for OWN came as a surprise to industry insiders given the clout that Discovery wields with cable operators. But Cablevision is known for its tough stance in dealing with even the largest programmers.

For OWN, Cablevision was a must-have distrib since it reaches 3 million subscribers in the Gotham area, many of them in upscale Long Island neighborhoods full of viewers in OWN’s target demographic.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. OWN has been aggressive in seeking subscriber fees that are significantly higher than the estimated 7¢-8¢ per sub that Discovery Health had garnered. But OWN is also said to be offering distributors as much as a one-year trial period for free before sub fees of approximately 20¢ kick in.

It’s expected that the deal to run on Cablevision’s digital iO TV service puts OWN’s subscriber base at close to 85 million homes.

OWN bows at noon on Saturday with an hourlong introductory special fronted by Winfrey. That will be followed by a seg of one of the channel’s original series, “Kidnapped by the Kids,” in which a workaholic parent is forced to spend time in what OWN dubs a “forced parent sabbatical.”

Sunday’s primetime highlight will be the “Ask Oprah’s All Stars” spesh featuring Winfrey and some of the personalities she turned into smallscreen staples: Suze Orman, Dr. Phil McGraw and Dr. Mehmet Oz.

Sneak peeks of other OWN originals will run throughout the weekend until the net’s regular lineup begins rolling out next week.

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