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 

Mar 31, 2009
Posted by: Hitsville

Couric’s PR machine keeps chugging along

With Katie Couric, the News Anchor Nobody Watchesâ„¢, fearful of losing her job and Les Moonves, aka Mr. Julie Chen, fearful of having to admit he made a grievous error by shelling out some $15 million a year on a celebrity instead of the 100 or so actual journalists he could have hired in her stead, CBS embarked on a Couricapalooza of a PR campaign to salvage the Chipper One’s job.

It was extremely successful, with agreeable tongue-baths in the LA Times, the Washington Post and the New York Times, provided by such stalwarts as Howard Kurtz, Tom Shales and Jacques Steinberg.

Each of these worthies is entitled to his own opinion as to Couric’s competence (or rightfulness) as an anchor, of course; but all went above and beyond, carefully dishing out the Couric-friendly ratings details CBS supplied them, and not spending too much time putting those numbers into context or looking at bigger trends.

(And none spoiled the game by pointing out what was even more obvious, that each of their exclusive interviews was part of an orchestrated PR onslaught.)

Anyway, having exhausted all takers on the national level, the Couric PR myrmidons are now doling out press availabilities to even less credulous local news outlets. Couric turned up recently in both the NY Post and the NY Daily News, both of which agreeably repeated the organization’s Couric-friendly talking points and didn’t focus too awfully much on the bad ratings news.

Check out what the Post ran with:

Two years after leaving NBC‘s “Today” to anchor the “CBS Evening News,” Katie Couric can finally gloat about her ratings — but she’s not going to. Couric, who’s taken her hits and repeatedly placed third nationally in the evening news race behind ABC and NBC, has beaten NBC’s “Nightly News” in the big New York market for the past six months — and last month logged a 22 percent increase in overall viewers. But Couric refuses to take credit. “It’s all due to the staff, the correspondents and producer Rick Kaplan,” she told us. “It takes a while for anything to click and for people to get used to me.”

That’s impressive—isn’t NBC by far the ratings leader? That seemed strange to me; I did some research and discovered (on Media Bistro) something I didn’t know—that the ABC Evening News kicks everyone’s ass in NYC. In the New York media market, at least, Charles Gibson has more viewers than Couric and Brian Williams combined. Who knew?

(Note how Page Six doesn’t mention that Couric’s big Williams kill is just for the second-place prize.)

The NY Daily News piece is just as fluffy, with each bit of bad news carefully balanced by someting positive:

With two years under her belt at CBS, the “CBS Evening News” still trails NBC and ABC in the national ratings, but Couric seems to have won over some of her loudest detractors.

Though Couric recognizes she’s had a bumpy adjustment period, she says she doesn’t live and die by the numbers.

What’s interesting in both cases is that all the talk that powered the national pieces—about those improved ratings—is gone.

(As I noted at the time, while there had been some improvement in her shows’s perennially bottom-basement standings, this had come at the end of last year, only after the presidential race had concluded, suggesting that, for many people, CBS and Couric was a place to turn to only when the real news was over.)

Now, to go back to the Post and the Daily News, when you’re practicing PR, and not journalism, not saying anything doesn’t mean there’s no news.

It means there’s bad news.

That’s why neither the Daily News nor the Post took a look at the most recent CBS ratings. Just a few weeks ago Tom Shales was telling us that Couric’s numbers were up five percent. This was in that heady period immediately after the inauguration when, again, folks had started drifting back to Couric.

I couldn’t quite figure out where that five percent figure had come from, but here’s the situation now:  The CBS Evening News is attracting just north of 6 million people, a hefty 20 percent decline from that post-inaguration high Shales was crowing about, demonstrating again that Couric can’t hold on to an audience.

The last two weeks have been disrupted, TV Neswer says, by the college basketball finals, but the trend downwards by CBS has been ineluctable for eight weeks, and has lost the network more than a million viewers in the process.

———–

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 

Mar 11, 2009
Posted by: Hitsville

Couric Watch: Ratings plummet!

couric1.jpgThe Katie Couric Media Onslaught, charted here with alacrity, has slowed to a trickle. There was that appearance on Letterman last week, I guess, and this week just a Very Important Award from the USC J School, for those “extraordinary and persistent” Sarah Palin interviews.

When last we checked in with Couric’s actual ratings, we saw, despite all the spinning, squinting and selective citing of the data, her ratings were stuck at about 7 million.

The irony was that this was better than they had been during the campaign, which did not lack news interest. As Hitsville’s analysis proved, viewers really didn’t want Couric when actual historic events were taking place.

But, after the election was over, and after the financial meltdown had been addressed, then people felt they could go back to superficial Couric.

But now, it seems, they’ve checked her out again and … they’ve decided they really don’t like her that much. TV Newser helpfully collects the last few weeks of ratings here.

Couric had 7.2 million viewers the week of Feb. 2, coming off the inauguration high.

The next week, Feb. 9?

6.75 million.

Feb. 16? 6.73 million.

Feb. 23? 6.44 million—down for four weeks in a row, TV Newser notes.

And March 2? 6.44 million again.

She’s lost ten percent of her audience in a month, and this after the biggest PR assault the industry has seen in a long time.

Now, this number is above her bottom basement mark of some 5 million two years ago, but it’s not too much above the 5.9 million she had when all that talk started about her leaving the anchor position last April.

———–

Previously in Hitsville:

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 

Feb 28, 2009
Posted by: Hitsville

Paging Katie Couric!

The NYT, in a front-page piece, analyzes the sticky revenue state the networks are in:

For the networks, the crisis is twofold: cultural and financial. For viewers, the result is more low-cost reality shows, prime-time talk and news programs and sports from the institutions that once made “Hill Street Blues,” “All in the Family” and “Cheers.”

NBC’s decision to move Jay Leno to a Monday-through-Friday slot at 10 p.m. eliminates the chance of the network developing another “ER” for that hour, but it will save the network tens of millions of dollars.

Doesn’t CBS have an albatross news anchor who’d be great for a “prime-time talk and news program” and would save the network the tens of millions it spends on “CSI”?

But Mr. Julie Chen, that albatross’s biggest supporter, says he’s not buying the premise:

One dissenter is Leslie Moonves, the chief of CBS, who defended network television at a media conference in December, saying, “I’m here to tell you—the model ain’t broken.”

———–

Previously in Hitsville:

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 

Jan 29, 2009
Posted by: Hitsville

Dear Tom Shales

Dear Tom:

You’re the man. One of our sharpest pop-culture observers. So how did you fall under the odd gossamer aura that somehow seems to envelop Katie Couric every time a member of the media gets near?

Here are a few of the things I thought were weird in your story today, Tom:

1) The lede. “How about a big hand for the little lady?” you begin. Couric is not a serious newsperson, but even she doesn’t deserve such a condescending opening.

2) You refer to the “merciless pummeling” Couric has allegedly been getting in the media. Got any examples? I’ve been noticing a lot of puff pieces. From the Post, the NYT, the LAT. Not so much with the pummeling.

3) Tom, there’s too much selective citing of things that make Couric look good, but not enough skepticism. Example: You mention right up front that the CBS Evening News was “a newscast that had a lock on third place long before Couric took it over.” But you don’t note that Couric has taken it down even from that point! (Not to mention the many millions of new folks she brought to the broadcast to check her out originally—who then went somewhere else.)

4) Now, consider this construction:

If Couric stands a chance of elevating the newscast to second or first place in the nightly ratings, one reason may be that she’s finally the right anchor for the times.

First, let’s be honest: She has no chance of doing that; even with her recent advances, she’s several full rating points behind her competition. I’ll talk more about the numbers in a minute, but right now she’d have to increase her viewership by forty percent just to tie NBC.

Now, as for being the right anchor for the times, as I noted yesterday, her little ratings boost is of very recent vintage. Let’s think: What happened in the last month or two that might have affected her ratings? Oh, yeah—the election! After the election, after the stock market crash, after we got a new guy in to deal with the problem. Now people are going back to Couric. (And again, let’s remember we’re talking about a trifling number, but whatever.) Maybe it’s ’cause they didn’t really need Katie Couric for, you know, actual news.

5) Now, about that primetime special last night:

Couric reported Part 1 of an “exclusive” shocker series about domestic violence committed against spouses and girlfriends by troops returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan. She gave this troubling story not “a woman’s touch” but the attention of a good reporter.

As is all too frequently the case with TV news, what she really gave attention to was the New York Times, which has doggedly been following this story for years, most recently and wrenchingly in a front page piece three weeks ago.  (“A focus on violence by returning G.I.s,” by Lizette Alvarez and Dan Frosch.) Do you think maybe Katie “I don’t even write my own blog” Couric got the idea there?

And, Tom, did you really make this observation? “The segment was labeled ‘Katie Couric Investigates’ to help raise her profile even higher.” Shouldn’t it have been called “Katie Couric reads the New York Times”?

6) OK, let’s talk ratings. You, like the LAT the other day, zero in on Couric’s recent uptick. But I noticed you didn’t crunch the numbers yourself, instead attributing them to the network:

NBC’s Brian Williams and his nightly newscast continue to score an emphatic first place in the Nielsens, with about 10.1 million viewers, followed by Charles Gibson and ABC with 9.1 million and Couric and CBS at 7.2 million. But Couric’s numbers are up about 5 percent over the same period as last year, CBS says.

But here, for example, is an NYT piece on evening news ratings from exactly one year ago:

In the extremely tight ratings race between the two leading evening news broadcasts, ABC’s “World News With Charles Gibson” last week edged past its rival, NBC’s “Nightly News With Brian Williams,” for the first time in eight weeks. Nielsen estimated that the ABC newscast drew 9.8 million viewers, its highest average in nearly a year and slightly more than the 9.6 million who tuned in to NBC. […]  Last week CBS’s “Evening News With Katie Couric” remained a distant third (7.13 million).

In other words, NBC is up five percent, ABC is down five percent, and Couric has an increase that is a rounding error.

7) Not having bothered to cite examples of the “merciless pummeling,” you get around to acknowledging the recent puff pieces:

“I am cognizant of it,” she says of the recent rash of pro-Couric reports, as opposed to dump-Couric stories. “I think if it’s true, the reason is partially that people are getting used to me in this role. And I’ve become increasingly comfortable in it.”

Tom, isn’t the “recent rash of pro-Couric reports” because of a concentrated PR campaign?

8 ) Then we get this:

Why did it take two years (after an initial, short-lived leap out of the starting gate) for Couric even to begin to catch on?

Here again, Tom, she’s not “catching on.” Even after her celebrated Sarah Palin interviews, her ratings didn’t improve. She was getting ratings in the high sixes when she and CBS began discussing her departure last year. (You refer to those as “rumors”—kinda of a cheesy way to refer to the WSJ’s big scoop, which was confirmed both by the Post at the time and as recently as this week by the LAT.)

All in all, Tom, a very disappointing piece. Here’s how your story should have begun:

Six months ago, the Wall Street Journal was reporting that Katie Couric and the CBS Evening News might well part ways after the inauguration of the new president.

That time has now come.

Couric and her camp have accordingly embarked on a very big PR campaign to help her keep her job. But a close reading of her ratings show that, after a year that saw her draw the lowest numbers in the storied news organization’s history, she has made only modest inroads in her bottom-basement standings. Worse, the increase she has seen dates from just the last few weeks, underlining the fact that Couric could not draw viewers to her show during one of the most consequential, news-filled years of our lifetime.

———–

Previously in Hitsville:

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