CBS Net Courts Affils for Couric
Goal: Seamless News Toss to 'Evening'
CBS is turning to its station affiliates to help bolster "The CBS Evening News With Katie Couric."
The network wants the local stations to transition seamlessly from their early newscast to Ms. Couric's show -- meaning no intervening commercials or promotional spots.
With data indicating a third of viewers decide what they're going to watch next in the last seconds of their local newscasts, CBS wants to eliminate temptations that would lead viewers to choose something other than the flagship "Evening News," which sank to a record low of 5.96 million viewers two weeks ago.
Executive producer Rick Kaplan, who has shifted to shorter segments, harder news and a faster pace on the "Evening News" in the nearly three months since he was hired, intends to take Ms. Couric on the road to a different affiliate market each month in search of new viewers. At each stop, station staffers will have ample access to the anchor, and the newscast will include a major story affecting that market and a closing "celebratory" story about the market.
"A seamless transition is the price of admission," Mr. Kaplan told affiliates gathered last week in Las Vegas for the 53rd annual CBS affiliates convention, where Ms. Couric made her second annual appearance to schmooze with local station representatives and to say, "I hope you'll keep watching."
Skipping commercials or promotions between the end of the local news and Ms. Couric's opening potentially will affect the stations' bottom line.
"Obviously, it's an inventory allocation that changes the economic model, the revenue model, and it has to be evaluated by everyone as to the value returned if we do it. We were just approached with it today," said Scott Blumenthal, Lin Television executive VP of television, who succeeded Freedom Broadcasting President Doreen Wade as chairman of the CBS affiliates association at the convention. "We'll take a look at it. Anything that's going to work in our best interests I'm sure the stations are going to do."
While most affiliates surveyed casually by TelevisionWeek are dismayed by the network's inability to get out of third place in the early morning and evening news races, they concede they do not know what the solutions are.
CBS News and Sports President Sean McManus said Ms. Couric is "the right anchor at the right time." If Mr. Kaplan produces a quality program, "I know our ratings will improve. We are going to prevail," he added.
"Katie is magnificent. I am fully convinced we are going to win," said CBS Corp. President and CEO Leslie Moonves, who convinced Ms. Couric to leave her secure perch as "Today" co-anchor to make history—and some $15 million per year—as the first woman to anchor a flagship network newscast solo.
Mr. Moonves was upbeat about the state of the television business in general and the network in particular as he concluded the two-day gathering in Las Vegas.
At the affiliates meeting, CBS manifested a view of itself not as an old and outmoded media dinosaur, but as a traditional media business adapting to fast-developing technologies. Those technologies were portrayed as tools to keep network content king—not weapons of mass-media destruction.
"The centerpiece of CBS Corp. is this network," Mr. Moonves said, concluding the event that was an umbrella for everything from old-fashioned horse trading to advice on wrangling the Senate and House staffers who will influence media regulation.
The quest to get the seamless local transition to "Evening News" may be decided by getting the network to return the favor at 11 p.m. as stations begin their late-night newscasts.