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CBS: Kiss me Katie
Despite Katie Couric leaving NBC for CBS, her move may not have a big $ impact on either network.
By Paul R. La Monica, senior writer

NEW YORK ( After months (that seemed like years) of speculation, Katie Couric has finally announced that she will jump ship from NBC to CBS.

Couric, co-host of NBC's "Today," has agreed to take the nightly news anchor job at CBS (Research). She will become the first woman to solo host a network evening newscast, with some reports saying her compensation will be $15 million a year.

Longtime "Today" co-host Katie Couric is set to leave NBC to take the nighly news anchor job at CBS.
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Couric's contract with NBC is set to expire at the end of May, after 15 years as host.

"After listening to my heart and gut," Couric said, "I will be leaving at the end of May."

The preoccupation with Couric's job status in the press ("Will Katie stay or won't she?") has bordered on the nonsensical. Sure, this is a juicy story. We all like a bit of celebrity gossip. But from a business perspective, let's be honest, it's not that big of a deal.

One media buyer said that the Katie situation won't have an impact on this year's upfront buying period. "Overall, I don't see this completely changing the market," said Ed Gentner, senior vice president and group director with MediaVest USA, a media buying firm. "Time will tell if this holds true, but advertisers are not going to be overly worried at this point."

Life will go on

Sure, "Today" is a huge moneymaker for NBC. According to estimates from various sources, "Today" is said to generate more than $500 million in advertising revenue for NBC annually and is also immensely profitable.

But it's wrong to assume that "Today" ratings will plummet and ad revenue will dramatically decrease for NBC and its parent company General Electric (Research).

"Today" existed before Katie Couric joined it. (Remember Jane Pauley?) It will go on without her.

"I don't think Katie's going to be that big of a loss to NBC. They've rotated through enough hosts and hostesses," said Gary Carr, senior vice president and director of national broadcast with TargetCast tcm, another media buying firm. "It's not going to be a disaster. They've weathered stuff like this before."

In addition, that Couric was looking to leave NBC doesn't exactly qualify as the biggest secret in the media world, and NBC has had plenty of time to prepare. The network is said to be considering Meredith Vieira of "The View" as a possible replacement as well as in-house candidates like "Weekend Today" co-anchor Campbell Brown.

"I'd hope that NBC has a strategy. They've known about this issue for some time so they should plan to have a successor to Katie that's going to resonate with viewers the same way that she has over past few years," said Kris Magel, senior vice president and national broadcast account director with ZenithOptimedia, another media buying firm.

It may also be wrong to assume that viewers will follow Couric from NBC to CBS out of loyalty. "How much of news television viewing is reporter or personality driven? In the past we haven't seen significant amount of shifts when people switch networks," said Lyle Schwartz, managing partner with Mediaedge:cia, another media buying firm.

Gentner adds that the success of Couric at CBS depends on how she is used, i.e. if they try and turn her into Dan Rather or Walter Cronkite, that's probably not going to work.

"If CBS uses her as just a news reader, that's not playing to her strengths. They need to play to her strengths and bring in a new human element to the news," he said.

And Carr thinks that all the networks face a bigger problem when it comes to their news operations, namely that fewer younger viewers, the ones that are more desirable to advertisers, are watching the nightly newscasts.

Bringing on Couric could temporarily spark interest in network news, Carr said, but he doesn't see it as a solution to the continued decline in viewership all the networks face in this age of the Internet and 24-hour cable news.

"Hiring Couric will create a lot of publicity and noise and maybe initially people will turn on CBS to see her. But I don't see how this is the answer to the overall problem that network TV has, which is that it is not where people get their news anymore," he said.

Viewers don't have loyalty to networks

For some crazy reason, people in the media business like to think of viewers having rooting interests in specific people and for individual networks, almost like they are sports teams. But will someone who watches "Today" now be more inclined to watch "The Early Show" on CBS just because they like Couric and she's now a CBS employee?

That's a huge stretch.

As for the effect that Couric could have on the prime time schedules of CBS and NBC...that should be minimal too. My favorite shows are spread out across all the top networks and has nothing to do with which morning news show that I watch....or in the case of the nightly news, don't watch.

Do you honestly think that someone who's a "Today" show fan who's never watched "CSI" or "Survivor" is now more likely to watch those shows because Katie Couric is heading to CBS? CBS already is doing a fine job in prime time. It's hard to imagine how Couric can improve what's already working.

Likewise, even though NBC has the best-rated morning show, a show that presumably is a good outlet to promote NBC's other shows throughout the remainder of the day, that hasn't prevented NBC from plunging into a prime time ratings abyss. Watching the "Today" show doesn't mean you're then going to want to watch dreck like "Joey."

So why is there such hullabaloo about Katie's new job? The networks and advertisers -- simply don't like the unknown. "Would NBC prefer that Couric stay? I'm sure they would. Nobody wants to mess with success," Magel said.

That may be true. But there's no reason why "Today" can't continue to be a hit or to suggest that CBS will suddenly vault into the lead of the nightly news ratings.

No disrespect to Katie, but it just seems preposterous to think that one person can single-handedly alter the fortunes of two major TV networks.

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Katie Couric
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