Don't Let the Door Hit You On the Way Out
Katie Couric to Anchor CBS Evening News
Wave Goodbye As She Heads Off Into the Sunset
Tomorrow morning Katie Couric will announce that she'll become the first woman to anchor a major television network's evening news. This fall Couric will take over as the permanent, solo anchor of the CBS Evening News -- the nation's third-place evening newscast, which famously lost anchor Dan Rather in March 2005. It's a historic first for women. It also means Katie Couric is history.
Katherine Couric, as she called herself in her broadcast reporting until her first week as cohost of NBC's Today show, makes the move at a time when the evening network newscasts have lost almost half the audience they had 25 years ago to cable news and the Internet -- but network morning newscasts have gained viewers. The three major network morning news programs collectively generate more than $1 billion each year, which is more than twice what the evening newscasts pull in. What's more, profits generated by the morning newscasts now account for about three-quarters of the total profits earned by the networks' news divisions (and Today is the biggest money-maker and profit center of them all). Thus it shouldn't be surprising that last year Jeff Zucker, president of the NBC Universal Television Group, told the New Yorker that the morning news shows now "are driving network-television news divisions." In the same article David Westin, president of ABC News, said he envisions the morning shows as the future of network news. "I think morning television may be an early indication of where a good portion - not all - of television news is headed," he told reporter Ken Auletta. (See Auletta's "The Dawn Patrol: The curious rise of morning television, and the future of network news," The New Yorker, Aug. 8, 2005.)
Katie Couric's move can't rightly be considered a breakthrough for women when she's taking a swan dive from so lofty a power perch into the watery graveyard depths of network evening news anchors. And to top off this flamboyant and foolish decision reached out of her need to feed a gigantic ego rather than reasoned consideration, she's going to very publicly -- and very rapidly -- sink and drown.
Katie Couric's "Q ratings" have plummeted over the past five years. This is a real measurement and not some nebulous concept; for the past 40 years, a Long Island firm called Marketing Evaluations has computed what it calls "Q scores" that measure the familiarity and appeal of performers, characters, sports and sports personalities, broadcast and cable programs, and company and brand names among consumers. These scores are now an industry standard and are part of virtually all major marketing, advertising, and media efforts. From 2000 to 2004, Katie's negative Q ratings shot up 20 percent -- an unusually rapid increase in negative perception among consumers. And by 2005 her likeability score was lower than that of ... Dan Rather's.
The 25-year trend of viewers abandoning the network evening newscasts, yet flocking to the morning programs, spans a period of time 15 years longer than Couric's stint on the Today show. That pattern, combined with her precipitous drop in Q scores over the past five years (suggesting there is plenty reason Today has had to struggle so hard to stay on top), together mean Katie will soon be Yesterday's news.