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Oprah's brand boosts Corus's women's channels

Oprah Winfrey Network representative Lisa Ling with Doug Murphy, executive vice-president and president of Corus Television

Deborah Baic

Over the past 25 years, she has gone from tabloid talk show host to billionaire, TV mogul and lifestyle guru. Now, for any media company hoping to reach out to women, one name holds an undeniable allure: Oprah.

Corus Entertainment Inc. is aiming to capitalize on the power of the TV diva's brand when it brings the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) to Canadian screens next year. The channel will debut on March 1, two months after its U.S. launch, Toronto-based Corus announced on Tuesday.

The launch forms part of Corus's goal to develop its portfolio of women's channels. OWN will be a rebranding of Corus's specialty channel VIVA, which is aimed at women in the 25-to-54 age group.

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Last February, Corus rebranded another channel, SexTV, to launch W Movies, a complement to the W Network that was the most profitable specialty channel in Canada in 2009, according to information submitted to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. Corus also owns Cosmopolitan TV, which is targeted at a younger female demographic.

Corus Television president Doug Murphy calls W "the mother ship" of its women's channels.

"Eight years ago, when we launched the W Network, we did so with the belief that women as a demographic and an audience are important," he said.

The strength of W led to the launch of Corus's other women-centric channels, including VIVA, which debuted in November of 2008 and in the following year saw its advertising revenues jump nearly 64 per cent from its former incarnation as Canadian Learning Television.

"We think [OWN]is going to put a whole new wind in our sails," Mr. Murphy said.

American journalist Lisa Ling was flown in for Corus's presentation of the new network to advertisers at the new Corus Quay building on Toronto's waterfront on Tuesday. Ms. Ling was a co-host of the women's morning program The View, and more recently has been a correspondent on The Oprah Winfrey Show, which enters its final season next year as Ms. Winfrey turns her attention to the new network.

Ms. Ling will host a show on the network called Our America where she reports on subjects such as faith healers and drug addiction, including her own reactions to the subjects.

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Other shows slated for OWN include a behind-the-scenes look at the filming of Oprah's final season; a reality show about actor Ryan O'Neal's reconciliation with his daughter Tatum; another reality show about Canadian country music star Shania Twain's struggle to find herself following the breakup of her marriage; and Master Class, which features celebrities such as Simon Cowell and Jay-Z telling their life stories.

Mr. Murphy said Corus will be evaluating its current VIVA shows to see what fits with the new brand, so that the channel can fulfill its Canadian content obligations.

OWN will already have some Canadian content airing in the United States. Anna &Kristina's Grocery Bag, a Canadian production that evaluates how easy it is to use certain cookbooks, is part of the U.S. schedule. OWN announced the deal with the Anna & Kristina hosts' Vancouver-based production company, Worldwide Bag Media, on Nov. 1. The show currently airs on VIVA, and will be part of OWN in Canada.

By replacing VIVA, the new network will be available in 6.3 million homes when it launches, according to Corus.

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