Oprah Winfrey's new partner on cable TV is a bit like her: It came from humble beginnings to become a big force in the media business.
After launching in 1985 with 156,000 subscribers, Discovery Communications now has a global audience of millions and owns several hot cable properties, including Discovery Channel and TLC, home of the tabloid sensation "Jon & Kate Plus 8."
Its stock has more than doubled since the start of the year, and the company's market value is nearly $9 billion. Ratings at its most well-known channels are up, thanks in part to the gossip about Jon and Kate Gosselin and their eight children, whose finale was airing Monday night.
Winfrey's announcement Friday that she was ending her broadcast-syndicated talk show in 2011 capped a long period of speculation that began when she announced the launch of OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, in a 50-50 partnership with Discovery in January 2008.
It also marked another victory for cable TV, which has drawn advertisers, audiences and talent away from broadcasters ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox and their TV station affiliates.
One strength of cable network owners such as Discovery is that they generate steady and rising subscription fees from cable and satellite TV providers, which pay to show channels to their subscribers. That has helped cable networks weather the economic downturn far better than broadcasters.
OWN is set to launch in January 2011 in 80 million U.S. homes, replacing Discovery Health. Research firm SNL Kagan estimates the channel generates 12 cents per month in fees per subscriber, but that is expected to rise to 17 cents by 2013 after Winfrey settles in.
The amount Winfrey earned in her broadcast contract, in which CBS Corp. syndicated her show to stations nationwide, was not revealed. But Anthony DiClemente, an analyst at Barclays Capital, said the deal on cable "can provide higher value."
"I'm sure she has mixed emotions about leaving broadcast for cable. But if you look at it from an economic point of view, the recurring subscription fee which occurs on cable is very alluring for both Oprah and Discovery corporate," DiClemente said.