Oprah new TV network, OWN, is launching on January 1, 2011—and in addition to having complete creative control over the channel, Winfrey has committed to appearing on OWN for 70 hours each year.
By populating and evangelizing on OWN 24/7 — a daunting 1,200 hours of programming a year — Oprah realized that she had the opportunity to increase her impact on the world and make some nice money along the way. Bank of America Merrill Lynch media analyst Jessica Reif Cohen thinks that OWN will attract more than $145 million in ad revenue in its first year of operation. (That would put OWN in the league of such cable networks as The Weather Channel and Animal Planet, according to SNL Kagan.) Depending on ratings, it could turn a profit of $100 million in year three and grow significantly from there — making it one of the most successful media launches this past decade, rivaling the introduction of O, The Oprah Magazine, a partnership of Harpo and Hearst, in 2000.
Not that any of this matters to “authentic” Oprah, who insists she cares more than anything about being true to her viewers. “My fear about ‘Will the people really follow me?’ — I’m past that,” says Oprah. This past summer, she says, she was reading a magazine article about Michael Jackson and was riveted by a quote from a former colleague of the late superstar. The friend said that after Jackson released Thriller in 1982 and it became the all-time best-selling album, he was paralyzed by the notion that he could never top that. “All the bells went off,” says Oprah. “This is why I lived in fear about this network. I kept thinking I have to repeat the 25-year phenomenon of the Oprah show.” She adds: “I don’t want to be Michael Jackson.”
Read the Fortune cover story in full here.