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Oprah Winfrey queen of a declining empire - daytime TV

Oprah Winfrey announced this week that she will discontinue 'The Oprah Winfrey Show' in 2011. Her timing is impeccable. Daytime TV is on a steep decline.

In this photo taken Friday, talk-show host Oprah Winfrey announces during a live broadcast of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in Chicago that her daytime television show, will end its run in 2011 after 25 seasons on the air.

George Burns/Harpo Productions, Inc./AP

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When Oprah Winfrey exits daytime television in late 2011, she could be taking an entire era with her.

Daytime television, once a lucrative channel for advertisers to reach housewives and college students, is in a transition as the recession is moving eyeballs away from television sets, with more people forced to take jobs to sustain household incomes.

Ms. Winfrey's syndicated show, based in Chicago, is considered a bedrock program for local affiliates in daytime. Its popularity not only wins advertisers – in some markets, the show is essential for propping up ratings for local newscasts.

But even her dominion has waned with the changing media landscape and the shift in viewer habits since her halcyon days in the 1990s. Ratings for "The Oprah Winfrey Show" continue to show she rules daytime, but less so each year. In 1991-92, ratings for the show averaged 12.6 million viewers, double the 6.2 million who collectively tuned in from 2008-09.

The decline may have less to do with Winfrey's star power than with how viewing habits have changed.

Since her show began, the media landscape exploded; besides the countless cable networks vying for viewers, online video and social media are now also taking viewers away from their living room sets. Digital video recorders are also cutting into the market. The Nielsen Company reports that 23 percent of US homes have a DVR this year, and that number is expected to grow. [Editor's note: The original version gave a previous name for the Nielsen Company that is no longer used.]

With television viewing becoming not just more varied, but also more mobile and agile, networks can no longer comfortably rely on viewers to show up in front of their sets at a certain hour each day. Neither can advertisers. Both of which explain the recent ratings decline for the majority of daytime programming.

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