Thursday, April 06, 2006

Katie Couric's Real Bad News

To hear the media tell it, the only story bigger than the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is the ascendancy of Katie Couric to the anchor chair at CBS Evening News. This, declare the pundits, it the Last Great Hope of network news. Katie, they exclaim, can bring viewers back to the early evening updates, to get her warm, caring - human - viewpoint on the hard news issues of the day.

Right. As if anything, or anyone, is going to save the evening news.

While I have nothing against Katie (other than her pixie-like delivery that prevents me from taking anything she says too seriously), it seems that most of the media is, as usual, missing the point. I don't care who they sit in the anchor chair. I don't care how they spin her style or the legend they attempt to build around her. The plain fact is that it's not who's sitting in front of the camera that matters; it's who's sitting in front of their televisions at home.

And sadly, fewer people than ever are watching evening news. Not because it isn't interesting. And not because it hasn't been dumbed-down into tiny, byte-sized pieces for any moron to ingest. No, network evening news is dying a slow, lingering death in direct proportion to its audience.

That's right. The audience for network news is getting older. It's literally dying of old age.

Think I'm kidding? Try sitting through one broadcast - pick a night, any night - and count how many commercials contains the phrase "ask your doctor about." See how many spots pitch you their magic bullet for irregularity or arthritis or any other age-related condition. Believe me, advertisers know what the networks seem to deny: this is one audience that isn't getting any younger.

The really bad news for Katie is that unlike previous generations, there are no younger people interested in replacing the network news viewers. Everyone younger than 50 is getting their news online, over their cable or somewhere other than a major network's early evening broadcast. While I have no hard data on it, I'd be willing to bet that while Katie will be chirping the latest casualties from a natural or military disaster, most people are still in their cars, fighting traffic to get home .

Even worse, that top limit of 50 just keeps rising. Which means that at best, all CBS has succeeded in doing is paying Couric a hefty $15 million for whistling past the graveyard. It's only a matter of time until they realize that America's Sweetheart doesn't have the horsepower to bring in a national audience on a regular viewing basis.

And then there's the brand credibility thing.

I'm sorry, but is there anyone out there who can watch Katie Couric and get any sense of credibility from her at all? Don't get me wrong, I like Katie Couric. I just have a tough time getting straight news from a woman who spent the better part of her career pitching housewives on whatever product, service or celebrity event NBC placed in front of her.

So they give her a slot on 60 Minutes. Big deal. Like that, all of a sudden, is supposed to turn her into Christiane Amanpour? The mere notion of Couric delivering hard news is almost as laughable as when Dan Rather skulked through the hills of Afghanistan, unshaven and wrapped in Arab robes, whispering into his microphone as if the entire nation couldn't spot a CBS news crew meandering through the wastelands.

Couric's new job begins in September. If anyone is taking bets, put something down on her astronomical ratings for the first week. Then watch reality take over in Week #2, as ratings plummet and rumors begin to fly about co-anchors, and eventually, replacements.

Speaking of which, any truth to the rumor that Andy Rooney is being replaced by Britney Spears?


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