September 5, 2006

Couric debuts on evening news

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Television sweetheart Katie Couric
debuted on Tuesday as "CBS Evening News" anchor and the first
woman to solo host a newscast on one of the country's three
major broadcast networks.

Following in the footsteps of hard newsmen Walter Cronkite
and Dan Rather, who separately anchored "CBS Evening News" from
1962 to 2005, Couric's debut followed three months of hype
since she left NBC's "Today" morning show after 15 years.

Wearing a white jacket and black dress, Couric, 49, began
her first program after switching from bubbly morning TV
co-host to serious news anchor with an exclusive Taliban
interview by CBS' Afghanistan correspondent.

To ensure viewers stayed tuned in for the half hour, she
also teased them with the Vanity Fair magazine cover photo of
actor Tom Cruise's baby Suri but didn't show it until near the
end of the newscast.

Her performance on the show -- which had a brighter, more
modern set and sharper graphics than its predecessor -- drew
mixed reviews from media analysts.

"I couldn't help feeling we're watching a great
presentation but on the Titanic," Professor Paul Levinson,
chairman of the Fordham University media department, said after
Couric's first broadcast on the evening news show.

"The band is playing well -- the micro components are there
-- but I don't think we're seeing something that's taking off
and sailing into some kind of great, glorious future."

Levinson said that while he liked some of the newscast's
new segments including snapshots from history and a chance for
viewers to air their views, he does not believe the more
relaxed format works.

"Katie herself did a fine job, but I don't think any one
person could succeed in a format like this at that time,"
Levinson said. "They should have devoted at least 15 minutes to
much harder news."


Analysts said CBS, ABC and NBC are facing an uphill battle
to revive their evening newscasts, which have steadily been
losing viewers to other media such as the Internet and now have
predominantly male audiences with an average age of 60.

A Pew survey in July showed the percentage of people who
regularly watch nightly network news fell from 60 percent in
1993 to 28 percent in 2006.

"What CBS is hoping to gain is a younger audience and a
more female audience," said Ken Auletta, media columnist at The
New Yorker magazine.

"The presumption that advertisers make is that younger
people are more important to reach because they are less
weathered to brand names and more open to new advertising, and
women tend to make the buying decisions."

Often rated by audiences as one of television's most
likeable figures, Couric -- who will reportedly be paid $15
million a year -- has already boosted CBS' share price and
helped raise advance advertising sales, analysts said.

Auletta said that along with increasing its advertising
revenue by widening the appeal of its newscast with Couric, CBS
would also be hoping she can help make the network No. 1.

In a typical week in August, NBC averaged about 8.1 million
viewers a night compared to ABC's 7.5 million and CBS's 6.9
million, according to Nielsen Media Research.

CBS is owned by CBS Corp., NBC is a unit of the NBC
Universal media division of General Electric Co., and ABC is
part of The Walt Disney Co..

"If however, the goal is to dramatically increase the
viewership of the evening newscast I think they are smoking
pot," Auletta said. "That's not going to happen, because it
would defy everything that's happened for the last 30 years."