- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 9, 2006

Oprah Winfrey yesterday became the latest star to join the satellite radio space race, where she will soon compete with Howard Stern and Martha Stewart.

Miss Winfrey is expanding her media empire through a three-year, $55 million all-cash deal to start the “Oprah & Friends” channel in September on D.C.-based XM Satellite Radio.

Millions of viewers watch Miss Winfrey’s daily television talk show, which has been top-rated for 19 years. “O, The Oprah Magazine” has a circulation of more than 2.6 million. Her book club makes (or breaks) an author’s career. So why move to XM?

“I believe they’re the brand leader in satellite radio and share the same kind of commitment to providing quality and diverse content to the audience as I do,” Miss Winfrey said yesterday during a conference call with reporters.

The opportunity to reach millions of listeners in their homes and cars will bring her career full circle from her first media job as a local radio reporter more than 35 years ago, she said.

Miss Winfrey, 52, said her channel will feature a 30-minute “reality radio show” taped each week with her and “O” editor Gayle King talking about current events “as we talk about it, as girlfriends.” Her contract calls for 39 shows per year.

In comparison, Mr. Stern has two channels on New York-based Sirius Satellite Radio and hosts a live, five-hour morning show four days per week.

“Oprah & Friends” programming will include regular segments hosted by Bob Greene, Dr. Mehmet Oz, and other personalities that her audience responds to, Miss Winfrey said. The shows will be broadcast from a new studio in Chicago.

“We are simply ecstatic about this new partnership,” said Hugh Panero, XM president and chief executive officer.

Analysts said the Oprah-XM alliance could help attract female listeners, which Mr. Panero said make up about 35 percent of XM’s audience.

“Radio is kind of magical. When it works right, there’s a real bond with the listener … [but they] need to remember they’re providing radio, not television,” said Robert Unmacht, a partner at IN3 Partners, a Nashville media consulting firm not affiliated with XM or Sirius. “For Wall Street, it’s going to be great. The name carries a lot of cachet.”

XM’s stock rose $1.17, more than 4.7 percent, to close at $25.78 yesterday on the Nasdaq Stock Market. Sirius stock fell 18 cents, or 3 percent, to close at $5.80.

Sirius offers the Martha Stewart Living Radio channel aimed at a female audience, while Ellen DeGeneres hosts a show on XM that includes original content from HGTV and the Food Network.

With Howard and Martha on Sirius, and Oprah and Ellen on XM, could Dr. Phil be next?

“No, this does not involve Phil,” Miss Winfrey said. “I’ve already done my Phil time.”

So what’s next for the woman with one of the most influential media empires in the world?

“There are no political aspirations for me,” Miss Winfrey said. “I want this to work. Who knows what’s ahead?”

Both XM and Sirius charge about $13 for a monthly subscription and offer more than 60 channels of commercial-free music and dozens of talk-radio programs. XM has 160 channels compared with Sirius’ 125.

The companies also battle for sports broadcasting rights. XM has an exclusive agreement with Major League Baseball under an 11-year, $650 million deal. Sirius has exclusive rights to broadcast all NFL games under a seven-year, $220 million contract.

XM started up in 2001, one year before Sirius, which signed Mr. Stern, 52, to a five-year, $600 million deal in October 2004. Sirius has more than 3 million subscribers, many of whom signed up after Mr. Stern did.

XM has more than 6 million subscribers and expects to reach 9 million by the end of the year, according to a company spokesman.

Sirius spokesmen did not return calls yesterday.

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