Oprah, the media mogul who’s one of the most influential women in the world and also one of the richest, has reached a level of success that’s not easily replicated. But now that the queen of talk is pursuing a more behind-the-scenes role with The Oprah Winfrey Network, there may finally be room for a successor.
But it won’t be easy to fill her shoes. The key to Oprah’s vast wealth–Forbes estimates her net worth at $2.4 billion — has been in owning her brand. Her unique mix of drive, popular appeal and business savvy sets her apart from most mere talking heads.
“She has multiple revenue streams that allow her to leverage her brand better than anyone on this planet,” says Scott Testa, an entertainment industry consultant and marketing professor at Cabrini College in Philadelphia.
But she’s not the only one who has extended her media empire beyond a single talk show.
Rachael Ray got her start in 2001 as a chatty cook on the Food Network’s 30-Minute Meals. Today Ray hosts a syndicated hour-long talk show, The Rachael Ray Show, in addition to 30-Minute Meals and other specials for the The Food Network; she also publishes a magazine, Every Day With Rachael Ray. She’s written more than 20 cookbooks, has launched several successful food product lines and endorsements and created Yum-o, a nonprofit organization that provides food to needy families and funds cooking education and scholarships.
Testa calls Ray a “strong and interesting” candidate to be the next Oprah, adding that she’ll be especially successful if she expands her audience beyond foodies.
Could the next Oprah be a man?
Ryan Seacrest, Dr. Phil McGraw and Dr. Mehmet Oz could be considered top contenders. Now a household name, Seacrest hosts the mega-successful American Idol, hosts and produces shows on E!, has a syndicated radio show and reaches more than 3 million followers on Twitter. Meanwhile McGraw and Oz have cornered niche markets in daytime after getting their starts as experts on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Both launched hour-long talk shows that reach several million viewers per day, and have healthy online followings.
But Oprah is ultimately a feminine force, and it’s hard to imagine women connecting with these men with the same intensity. “It would be very hard for a male to do what she has done,” says Testa. “Her female audiences are very loyal to her, and they spend money on her magazine and the products she endorses.”