SEVERE WX : Air Stagnation Advisory View Alerts

How Oprah built Oprah Inc.

Oprah built her multibillion-dollar career on her everywoman persona. But the reality is she's one of the savviest bu...

Posted: Jan 10, 2018 5:58 AM
Updated: Jan 10, 2018 5:58 AM

Oprah built her multibillion-dollar career on her everywoman persona. But the reality is she's one of the savviest business executives in recent memory.

She got her start anchoring local news in Baltimore and Nashville, Tennessee, in the 1970s and early 1980s.

In 1984, Winfrey began hosting a local talk show in Chicago and led it to the top of the ratings. Two years later, she relaunched her show for a national audience and snagged an Academy Award nomination for her role in the period drama "The Color Purple."

Widespread fame soon followed.

"I was beyond excited," Winfrey recalled while announcing the end of the program more than two decades later. "And as you all might expect, a little nervous."

Related: Oprah Winfrey is 'very intrigued' by the idea of running, says Gayle King

Winfrey's focus on "everyday people" struck a chord, and helped attract massive audiences that now hang on the media mogul's every word (and product).

National syndication also brought in big money. Oprah's show brought in $115 million in sales during its first two seasons, according to a 1995 Forbes profile of Winfrey.

It's unclear how much she has ultimately pulled in from her runaway hit talk show, but it's a lot: She owns Harpo, the show's production studio, so she reaped the rewards of her show's success.

The late movie critic Roger Ebert, a friend of Winfrey's who said he persuaded her to enter syndication, put it this way: She made the decision to syndicate her show immediately after he jotted down her potential earnings on a napkin.

"With simple, high-school-level math, you can now figure out how much Oprah Winfrey makes in a year for her show," he wrote in a 2005 column.

"Step 1: Estimate how much I made in a year, 20 years ago. Step 2: Carry out the other multiplications described above. Step 3: Times 20."

Winfrey continued to expand her influence -- and wealth -- over the decades.

She was among the first investors in the Oxygen network, a cable channel geared toward women. NBC Universal bought Oxygen for more than $900 million in 2007, according to The New York Times.

In 2000, she founded O Magazine, which now boasts a circulation of 2.4 million, most of which are paid subscriptions, according to recent figures from the publication.

She was instrumental in the launches of two nationally syndicated talk shows, "Dr. Phil" and "Dr. Oz." They're hosted by Phil McGraw and Mehmet Oz, who were frequent guests on her talk show. Her studio created both of their programs.

By 2003, Winfrey had cemented her legacy as an elite business executive. That February, she became the first black woman on Forbes magazine's "World's Richest People" list. Her listed net worth: $1 billion.

Her imprint also expanded in less tangible ways. She started an "Oprah's Book Club" segment on her television show that became massively influential for the publishing industry.

Time magazine in 2008 called the club a "ruthlessly influential marketing vehicle, with the power to fundamentally alter bestseller lists."

She hasn't slowed down. Winfrey made one of her most ambitious plays in 2011, when she launched her television project, the Oprah Winfrey Network.

Although OWN has not been a major success, its ratings have improved in recent years. And it has been valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Winfrey's production company sold a 24.5% stake to Discovery Communications for $70 million last December.

Winfrey has also branched out into other products. She partnered with Kraft Heinz on a line of refrigerated soups and side dishes that rolled out to grocery stores nationwide last September.

Related: Oprah's Golden Globes speech sends Weight Watchers stock soaring

And then there's Weight Watchers. A little over two years ago, Winfrey bought 10% of the struggling company for $43 million.

Since then, enrollment has boomed by nearly 1 million members. Her stake in the company was worth more than $344 million last November.

Oh, and Weight Watchers is still on the rise. Shares spiked 13% on Monday after her much-buzzed-about Golden Globes speech.

Winfrey's total wealth is now estimated to be about $2.8 billion, according to Forbes. That makes her one of the richest celebrities in the country.

--CNNMoney's Brian Stelter contributed to this story.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 392197

Reported Deaths: 5186
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah60432839
Washington42082398
Marion39986507
Clackamas32861382
Lane30179358
Jackson24956361
Deschutes23639185
Umatilla15135182
Linn14704179
Douglas13438292
Josephine10201246
Yamhill9787143
Klamath9072147
Polk8248102
Benton611138
Malheur592790
Coos5693107
Columbia433356
Jefferson420866
Lincoln363852
Union339255
Crook336356
Wasco317046
Clatsop262735
Baker220833
Tillamook217045
Hood River214537
Morrow197825
Curry192439
Harney119933
Grant108515
Lake105616
Wallowa76013
Sherman1913
Gilliam1854
Wheeler1141
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 5087907

Reported Deaths: 74561
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles152858627184
San Diego4074794340
Riverside3880835358
San Bernardino3748555967
Orange3346265736
Sacramento1684922447
Kern1578751804
Fresno1568972259
Santa Clara1522681929
Alameda1252361507
San Joaquin1076041834
Ventura1040841191
Contra Costa1038691046
Stanislaus915481417
Tulare861371099
San Francisco56931672
San Mateo56354629
Monterey52521626
Solano47693358
Santa Barbara47345553
Merced45086668
Sonoma43207412
Placer42204470
Imperial38516773
Kings35221362
San Luis Obispo31511360
Madera26233311
Shasta26113458
Butte25476318
Santa Cruz22268224
Yolo21590260
Marin18495249
El Dorado18325166
Sutter14577186
Napa13424105
Yuba1076389
Tehama10282130
Humboldt10183119
Nevada10029105
Mendocino857799
Lassen797656
San Benito782979
Tuolumne774691
Lake7046110
Amador578366
Siskiyou475855
Glenn457436
Calaveras442288
Del Norte376942
Colusa325921
Inyo256746
Plumas19397
Mono18924
Mariposa160718
Trinity99817
Modoc7725
Sierra2180
Alpine1080
Unassigned810
Out of CA00
Medford
Cloudy
42° wxIcon
Hi: 46° Lo: 38°
Feels Like: 42°
Brookings
Partly Cloudy
51° wxIcon
Hi: 57° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 51°
Crater Lake
Partly Cloudy
42° wxIcon
Hi: 46° Lo: 32°
Feels Like: 42°
Grants Pass
Cloudy
42° wxIcon
Hi: 47° Lo: 41°
Feels Like: 42°
Klamath Falls
Partly Cloudy
35° wxIcon
Hi: 54° Lo: 30°
Feels Like: 35°
More developing valley fog tonight
KDRV Radar
KDRV Fire Danger
KDRV Weather Cam

Community Events