I don’t really believe, any more than you do, that Oprah Winfrey ending her show means that Oprah is actually ending her show. She may not (according to the linked article) currently intend to move the show to her cable network, but I think most people assume that she will eventually be back with some kind of talk show, maybe even in the same format.
So while this is not really the end of The Oprah Winfrey Show, it may really be the end of syndicated programming. If she in fact does pull her show out of syndication, that’s the latest and greatest blow to syndication as a TV distribution format. Syndication — the shows that are sold directly to TV stations, to fill the time slots that are not programmed by a network — has become steadily weaker over the last decade or more. Cable killed off the first-run syndicated scripted series. There are fewer hit network comedies, the lifeblood of syndication; things will pick up a little when How I Met Your Mother and Big Bang Theory reach 100 episodes, but it won’t be enough.
Even with the shows that syndicate well, stations have a huge amount of competition from cable. You might have noticed that the producers of NCIS, a very syndication-friendly show, give the credit for the show’s increased popularity to reruns… on the USA network. Because cable networks have marathons and repeat airings, they can sometimes do more to drum a show into the public consciousness than the traditional five-episodes-a-week syndicated airings.
And now the most popular and influential first-run syndicated show is being taken away. Whether it just goes away completely or moves to cable, it’s another sign of the waning power of broadcast syndication. Stations will still need to buy stuff to fill up a few daytime hours, but it won’t be another Oprah or Star Trek: The Next Generation. We may, however, get more and longer infomercials, so that’s something to look forward to.