Oprah’s OWN Network Bleeding $149 Million a Year?

ALTOWN, Oprah Winfrey‘s cable network, has been struggling since its launch in January, and things only got worse this week. First, it pulled the plug on Rosie O’Donnell‘s heavily-promoted talk show (which reportedly damaged O’Donnell’s relationship with Winfrey). Then it was forced to lay off 20 percent of its staff. Now a new report estimates that the network may lose a whopping $142.9 million this year, increasing predictions that the venture won’t last much longer.

Analyst Derek Baine of the research and investment film SNL Kagan says that between money spent on failed shows and severance packages (including O’Donnell’s reported $15 million payout) the network is hemorrhaging money. Co-owner Discovery Communications Inc. has already put more than $200 million into the project, and the company may be fed up. “OWN’s staff reduction and the cancellation of ‘The Rosie Show’ are clear signs that the network is struggling,” says Baine, adding that reducing costs from now on “will only do so much to keep Discovery Communications Inc. from pulling the plug on the network if ratings continue to remain low.”

However, Discovery spokesman David Leavy tells the Wrap that the report is “riddled with inaccuracies and bad information.” He paints a much rosier picture of the network: “The venture is on more solid ground with more business momentum than ever before,” Leavy says. “Last Sunday, OWN was the number one network on cable for women and people at 10 p.m. We remain confident in the future of OWN, and the long-term value we are building.”

Still, to keep advertisers interested, OWN needs to find a big ratings draw. Winfrey hoped that would be O’Donnell, but now she’s reportedly setting her hopes on Maria Shriver. Hopefully, the Queen of Daytime can turn things around, but it looks like becoming the Queen of Cable is much harder than she’d anticipated. [The Wrap, L.A. Times]