Jul 20, 2009
Posted by: Hitsville

Mediaite joins the Katie Couric PR bandwagon!

couric1.jpgWhat’s important about the internet to me is how it can undercut and challenge the calcified and celebrity-struck MSN.

Oh, wait:

[H]ere’s why the CBS Evening News is struggling in the ratings, how it can turn things around…and why none of it is Katie Couric’s fault.

That’s not the latest love letter to Katie Couric from Tom Shales or Howard Kurtz (or the LAT’s Matea Gold, or the NYT’s Jacques Steinberg …); that’s from Mediaite, the just-launched site that wants to give us the no-holds-barred, behind-the-scenes scoop on the media!

The title to that article is “The Current State of the CBS Evening News: Don’t Blame Katie.” After a no-doubt dogged series of interviews, the writer, Steve Krakauer, as the excerpt above indicates, set out to tell us what’s really wrong in what used to be called the Tiffany Network, before MTV bought it.

Now, as I read it, Krakauer after that big setup has exactly two reasons Couric is not to blame.

I know this because they are labeled “#1″ and #2.”

The first is “Politics.” The network, he says, is viewed as liberal.

Krakauer is referring to the image of the network when Dan Rather was the anchor. Funny thing. Times have changed and now, as you might have heard, NBC is the liberal network. The CBS image may no doubt linger, particularly among the senior-skewing evening news audience. But it has doubtless eased in recent years, particularly with the adoption of senior-friendly Katie Couric as anchor.

The other prong of his argument is that CBS’s audience is redder than the other networks. He cites a Time story on The Mentalist that makes the argument that CBS has “a lock” on throwback entertainment designed for the more traditional TV audience.

James Poniewozik is a strong analyst of TV, of course, but you could make the argument that he was, in effect, making the argument for The Mentalist. The hydra-headed amped-up CSI franchise on CBS is the opposite of everything The Mentalist is supposed to be. So is Survivor. So is Big Brother. So is The Big Bang Theory.

In other words, Krakauer’s argument a) isn’t true and b) to the extent it might be was supposed to have been eased by Couric.

Krakauer’s second argument (“Lead-in”) for Couric is that she has poor lead-ins from some CBS affiliates in LA and Chicago. Well, fine. She has some weak lead-ins from affiliates. But does that explain why her ratings have been dropping?

Here’s the case against Couric, none of which Krakauer acknowledges:

1) Her background is not substantive enough to be a network TV anchor. 2) Her experience is in the realm of infotainment*. 3) After that burst of publicity on her ascendance to the position, her ratings quickly dropped, and have consistently been far below that of her predecessor, Bob Shieffer. 4) The audience checked her out and decided it didn’t like her. 5) Her one big ratings bounce up came … after the last election, suggesting that America viewed her as a comforting lap to sit on when there wasn’t any real news out there. 6) Then they went down again. 7) Then they went down some more, to the point where she is now breaking her own record of the lowest ratings ever for the newscast. 8 ) For her reported $15 million salary, the network could hire 100 reporters and producers to, you know, report the news. 9) Instead of productively working to deal with these issues, she’s embarked on a long-running PR campaign, which, having exhausted all other venues, has now dripped down to internet startups looking for a little celebrity juice.

When, as seems inevitable, Couric gets dumped by CBS, shouldn’t Mediaite want to be ahead of that curve, rather than behind it with the likes of Howard Kurtz?

————–

* In an early post on Couric, I detailed some of the creepy stuff she did on the Today Show and referred to her, justifiably, as “the public face of a skanky network infotainment franchise.” More recently, I referred to her as a “skanky infotainment specialist“; a friend, offended, pointed out that I used the word to describe her. It’s a subtle difference, but it’s a fair comment; I shouldn’t call Couric herself “skanky.”

————

Previously in Hitsville:

Couric’s ratings: It gets worse
Confidential to Tom Shales and Howard Kurtz: Katie Couric’s ratings are in the tank again!

Couric Watch: Ratings plummet!
Paging Katie Couric!

Dear Tom Shales

Katie Couric—Where America Turns When the News Is Over™

Katie Couric, the News Anchor That Nobody Watchesâ„¢
Couric and CBS, lying
Should CBS jettison its news division?
Katie Couric’s ratings hit a new low
Howie hearts Katie
Kurtz the lame
Couric, the debate, and the vaporization of CBS News

Katie Couric, a year later 

Jun 23, 2009
Posted by: Hitsville

The CBS Evening News: Below 5 million!

couric1.jpgKatie Couric was off last week, so on one level it’s not fair to blame her for the fact that the CBS flagship newscast lost ten percent of its viewership last week, knocking it down below 4.9 million viewers, or half a million fewer than its all-time historical low.

On the other hand, Couric had already brought it down to that historic low the last two weeks.

Hitsville’s beef, remember, isn’t with Couric, though, as a skanky infotainment specialist she is about as qualified to sit in the anchor’s chair as Julie Chen, or Jeff Probst, for that matter.

It is with her tongue-bathing courtiers in the media news racket, who have been working overtime to tell us every little bit of positive Couric news but asleep at the switch when it comes to doing open-eyed reporting on either a) her astonishing ratings plunge or b) the discussions inevitably underway in Les Moonves’s office about what to do next.

Hitsville’s candidate, incidentally, is Probst, who can’t do any worse ratings-wise and will cost the company about $14 million less annually than Couric.

Ideally, CBS News would use that money to hire 100 full-time reporters, though it’s hard to see Mr. Julie Chen devoting money to improving the quality of the product; he could have done that instead of hiring Couric in the first place.

Couric, as I have suggested before, can do a nightly infotainment show, up against Leno; even with her insane salary it should be able to do OK in the 10 p.m. slot.

I wish Howard Kurtz and his fellows were inquiring inside CBS what the networks long-term idea for the Evening News is.

NBC now has an audience more than half again as big as CBS’s, and more than that in the demo; its command of network news is buttressed by two powerful growing forces.

The economics of MSNBC helps keep a large news staff and stars like Andrea Mitchell and Chuck Todd gainfully employed and busy; CBS, by contrast, has to maintain an international news organization for a tiny half-hour nightly broadcast, “60 Minutes” and not much else. Short of buying CNN, there’s no way it can compete.

And now NBC is plainly the new administration’s go-to network; not for nothing did Obama pepper his Radio and TV Correspondents’ Dinner speech with references to Chuck Todd, Mika Brzezinski, and Williams. It’s particularly ironic that the celeb-friendly Couric was outflanked in this way at the dawn of the most glamorous White House in nearly fifty years.

Now, NBC has some own problems, too, particularly MSNBC: Keith Olbermann has turned, seemingly permanently, into a pompous blowhard; Rachel Maddow does not have the gravitas to be a serous force; and as for Ed … I don’t really understand Ed.

Still, for NBC News, both of those forces will have the momentum of critical mass behind them

In other words, CBS News has no ratings; a tarnished, out-of-place star; and no bench. Its management has no ideas, and when faced with problems turns not to change but PR assaults. That has done nothing but mask deepening wounds inside.

What can it do now but jettison its news division?

———–

Previously in Hitsville:

Couric’s ratings: It gets worse
Confidential to Tom Shales and Howard Kurtz: Katie Couric’s ratings are in the tank again!

Couric Watch: Ratings plummet!
Paging Katie Couric!

Dear Tom Shales

Katie Couric—Where America Turns When the News Is Over™

Katie Couric, the News Anchor That Nobody Watchesâ„¢
Couric and CBS, lying
Should CBS jettison its news division?
Katie Couric’s ratings hit a new low
Howie hearts Katie
Kurtz the lame
Couric, the debate, and the vaporization of CBS News

Katie Couric, a year later 

Jun 04, 2009
Posted by: Hitsville

Couric’s ratings: It gets worse

couric1.jpgRemember a year or so ago, when Katie Couric’s ratings were so bad that … well, let’s let the NYT’s Bill Carter tell the story:

[T]he “CBS Evening News” recorded the worst five-night run in its history last week. The program attracted an average of only 5.4 million viewers for the week, which a CBS spokeswoman, Sandy Genelius, said appeared to be the lowest it had ever received. That number was down from about 5.6 million the week before and 6 million two weeks ago.

That’s from a story dated April 23, 2008. Here we are a year later and … Couric averaged 5,380,000 viewers last week, according to this weekly posting from TV Newser.

I’m not a big ratings expert like Howard Kurtz, but isn’t 5,380,000 lower than 5,400,000? Why aren’t people talking about this?

As we have seen, Couric’s ratings lagged all year, even through the alleged buzz she got for the Sarah Palin interviews.

After the election, after the stock market meltdown, her ratings began creeping back up, cementing her position as The News Anchor America Turns to When the News Is Overâ„¢.

That prompted a massive PR push that too many people who should have known better participated in. (An almost tearfully clueless last gasp of that push can be seen here. How does a reporter write about a show’s ratings without, you know, looking at the ratings?)

Most humiliating line in the TV Newser blurb: “Year-to-year, [CBS] just maintained its demo delivery.”

“Just maintaining” the lowest ratings ever in the demo—there’s a silver lining.

———–

Previously in Hitsville:

Confidential to Tom Shales and Howard Kurtz: Katie Couric’s ratings are in the tank again!
Couric Watch: Ratings plummet!
Paging Katie Couric!

Dear Tom Shales

Katie Couric—Where America Turns When the News Is Over™

Katie Couric, the News Anchor That Nobody Watchesâ„¢
Couric and CBS, lying
Should CBS jettison its news division?
Katie Couric’s ratings hit a new low
Howie hearts Katie
Kurtz the lame
Couric, the debate, and the vaporization of CBS News

Katie Couric, a year later 

May 28, 2009
Posted by: Hitsville

Confidential to Tom Shales and Howard Kurtz: Katie Couric’s ratings are in the tank again!

Back in January, Tom Shales asked for a big hand for the news anchor he called “the little lady”—why, her ratings were up 5 percent.

Around the same time, the Los Angeles Times discovered that if, with a little help from Katie Couric’s PR department, you selectively cited an arbitrarily delimited time frame, you could make the case that Couric’s ratings were up seven percent.

As for Howard Kurtz, well, he traditionally just adds on an extra million viewers to whatever ratings Couric is getting at any given point.

Anyway, today, far from the PR madding crowd, Couric, the News Anchor Nobody Watchesâ„¢, has been plugging along, riding that crest of positive coverage … and watching her ratings drop—week after week after week after week.

As we saw after Shales wrote his piece, Couric’s ratings had actually grown—not in the year-over-year case he and the CBS flacks were trying to make, but just week-to-week.

The only trouble with that scenario is that this was just after the election was over. It suggested that viewers came to Couric only when they didn’t need actual news any more.

And in any case, it meant merely that her ratings climbed back up to the miserable place she’d been a year previously—a bit over 7 million viewers.

Since then? Well, after the PR blitz from earlier this year, the TV audience got a chance to sample her wares again, and have not liked what they see. In March she dropped into the 6’s, and in April she dipped into the 5’s. Three weeks ago she dropped to 5.7 million viewers; two weeks ago she hit 5.6 million; and last week, according to ratings figures just released, she sank to 5.4 million.

The WSJ reported more than a year ago that CBS was talking about what to do with Couric after the inauguration. In fairness to Couric, it’s been months since then, and CBS hasn’t dumped her yet.

But when she’s dropping 100,000 to 200,000 viewers a week, how long can this last? Why are our intrepid national media critics suddenly silent on the subject of Katie Couric’s precipitous decline?

———–

Previously in Hitsville:

Couric Watch: Ratings plummet!
Paging Katie Couric!

Dear Tom Shales

Katie Couric—Where America Turns When the News Is Over™

Katie Couric, the News Anchor That Nobody Watchesâ„¢
Couric and CBS, lying
Should CBS jettison its news division?
Katie Couric’s ratings hit a new low
Howie hearts Katie
Kurtz the lame
Couric, the debate, and the vaporization of CBS News

Katie Couric, a year later