So the basic story is: Katie Couric, uber-respected female newswoman (I think that’s something at least a good handful of people believe), gets her own show (Katie) with ABC. Less than three years into that, uber-profiled female CEO Marissa Mayer woos her and gets her to join Yahoo! in early 2014. Here’s the official post from Mayer.
Before we get into this too deeply, here’s one thing to remember: the connection between ABC productions and Yahoo! is pretty deep; Good Morning America, which is ABC’s morning show, is tied directly to Yahoo! News. I don’t know the specifics of her contract or anything, but I’m sure that, if the situation calls for it (televised special/big story), Couric might appear on the ABC TV side. All I’m saying is, it could happen.
The easiest way to explain this move is that Yahoo! (from now on, I’m going to just write Yahoo, because the ! feels dumb every time) needs more original content to boost itself with advertisers. This is the same reason Yahoo went and got Megan Lieberman, then David Pogue, both from The New York Times. On the sports side, they’ve made a couple of big hires too, including Pat Forde and Charles Robinson. The digital ad space is very competitive; there are a ton of eyeballs on Google and Facebook (and for news, other sites like NYT, WSJ; for sports, ESPN, etc.), so Yahoo can get pinched and lose money there. As a primarily digital platform, they need that money — so investing in original content is a fairly sound strategy.
Couric will be a “global anchor” and probably host some type of interview show; it’s unclear the exact format that things will take — whether there will be kind of a ‘daily blast’ show in the morning, or something like that — but again, the idea is content generation + big names generating it = ad revenue.
The first negative ideas about Couric’s move (that I could find) came via Variety; you can read that article here. A lot of the points are pretty salient. For about 18 months, I once worked for a company that was a small part of PBS; essentially, it did the education reporting for PBS NewsHour. I came in via a strictly digital role — other people in the office handled all the logistics of the TV producing — and it was literally a week-by-week, month-by-month uphill battle to get anyone to buy in to anything related to non-TV. Now, admittedly I probably wasn’t amazing at my job and was learning all the time. But, TV and the Internet are completely different mediums, especially to people who grew up in one world. The Internet moves faster, and you have to be comfortable with something only attracting 12,800 hits or whatever. In TV, it’s much easier to deep dive things and toss around discussions like, “Well, 15 million people will see this.” (Only a handful of things on TV are truly seen by 15 million people, but almost everyone I’ve met in TV throws that number around like it’s nothing.) Yahoo has to show that it can support a big name like Couric on a digital platform. It hasn’t really shown that with anyone; people might watch Katie because it’s on or because they DVR’ed it, or they might have watched and enjoyed her on The Today Show for the same reasons. The formula won’t be the same when it’s based on a URL (sure, you can subscribe or follow her on Twitter or whatever, but it’s a different modality entirely in most respects).
Here’s another questioning soul:
The point is, TV people and Internet people think differently: about turnarounds, about audience, about numbers, etc. Television is an ingrained way of American life and has been for close to 50 years (JFK was probably the first TV president, and we just mourned the 50th anniversary of his passing). Google, which is probably the centerpiece of the Internet for many, is just barely 15. In 2005, which is around the time Obama started his push to national prominence, Facebook was barely the major social network. The Internet is young. We haven’t adapted completely to following our big names there, aside from just YouTube-searching someone or something, as I’m about to do here…
(That’s the single most popular individual clip involving Couric.)
By the way, since I’ve sent this clip to my friends a few dozen times, let’s just put in context how far Katie Couric’s career has traveled with this little clip, shall we?
Alright, so back to this discussion, briefly. This could be an awesome move. (One sad thing, actually, is that Yahoo’s internal video player kinda sucks from time to time — stops and starts, ya know? Weird ad runs. If they could only use YouTube, things would be much cleaner… but alas, YouTube is Google, and that’s a rival, so…) It could be awesome if they think of an interesting thing for her to do: a platform that’s beyond what else is going on out there, be it on the web or in print. Reinventing the wheel will help them at launch — because big names are involved — but after a month or three, that model will collapse and advertisers won’t be as interested. You have a big name on a digital platform; rather, you have a big TV name on a digital platform. Now, what are you going to do that’s different?
Hopefully they get some outside-the-box (terrible term, but works here) thinkers in these production and brainstorming meetings, because that’s what they need. Couric reading news headlines or sitting down and discussing things with people is basically just a classier, more-well-known version of HuffPost Live, which I personally think is typically boring as all hell. People might not want to watch longer clips on their laptops/tablets, but if there was some way she could tell stories that aren’t being told — she’s had a reputation in her career for being good at finding those from time to time — or could deep dive a topic even more, that would be cool. Short, power-packed news clip segments with tight and fun graphics? It will be cool for approximately 15 days, if that. Those things are all over the Internet.
Final point: in TV, while the term “exclusive” has kinda lost luster over the years, there is still a notion that something can be exclusive (for example, Obama explaining his stance on gay marriage initially to Robin Roberts, or, in the context of this post, Sarah Palin and Katie Couric). On the Internet, “exclusive” means a lot less. On Google News right now, there are 134 — one hundred and thirty four — different articles about Couric going to Yahoo. They all mostly say the same thing (a few have analysis, yes), and they’re all competing for traffic, hoping you’ll click this one instead of that one and allow them to jack up the ad price a little based on their eyeballs. A big name helps, but developing a sustainable platform around that big name is going to help more.