Both Hollywood and business insiders will be watching very closely on Monday afternoon as Katie Couric launches what is by far the best-poised daytime talk show to fill the enormously lucrative void left in the afternoon television schedule since Oprah Winfrey ended her show in 2010. Katie Couric was the beloved anchor of the TODAY show from 1991-2006, when she left the morning news giant to become the first-ever woman to anchor the evening news during her 5-year reign at the CBS Evening News. Her new daytime show is a joint venture with her close friend, Jeff Zucker, who was also her former Executive Producer during her years at the TODAY show. The Wall Street Journal writes:
[Couric] left CBS in June 2011, reunited with Jeff Zucker, her producer from the TODAY show and former head of NBC. They pitched the show idea to all the broadcast networks, landing ABC as distributor. Ms. Couric and Mr. Zucker own the show, but Disney-ABC is producing and distributing it, while covering all of the costs. She has a separate deal with the network to appear occasionally on ABC NEWS. Mr. Zucker is executive producer of Katie. The pair and Disney-ABC stand to make big money if Katie gets renewed with local affiliates past its initial two-year agreements. Disney-ABC will take production and distribution fees and recover costs, but after that Mr. Zucker and Ms. Couric get the balance. Many shows recoup up-front costs after the first couple of years. (Katie is expected to run about $40 million a year to make and distribute, according to people familiar with the situation).
A lot has changed since Oprah Winfrey left the playing field. Even in Oprah’s last few years, stations across the country were beginning to balk at the enormous syndication fees they had to fork over to Winfrey. Oprah’s ratings had started to collapse in her final few years and The Oprah Winfrey Show was no longer drawing viewers instantly into the stations’ local news at 4:59pm like it used to do so well in years past. Furthermore, even someone as huge in popularity as Ellen Degeneres is can only manage to draw an average of 2.2 million total viewers per show, with her show generating $164 million in ad revenue in 2011, according to Kantar Media. That’s merely half of the 5.5 million average viewers who tuned in to Oprah each day in 2010, its last full year on air. Oprah also brought in more than double the ad dollars of Ellen.
But Katie Couric, Ellen Degeneres, Judge Judy, and Anderson Cooper are each completely different ball games, and will have significantly different pulls on viewers for various reasons. Ellen is almost entirely froth, for instance, while Couric will be serving up some meat and candy at the same time with her irresistible style. As WSJ writes: “Too much news will likely repel viewers, analysts say. Anderson Cooper’s afternoon program, for instance, has had trouble connecting in part because of he hasn’t been able to fully show the less newsy side of his personality; the show is being revamped for the fall. Years ago, Jane Pauley, another TODAY show anchor with a news background, also tried and failed at daytime talk.”
But Katie Couric is infinitely more business savvy than Jane Pauley ever was (or Anderson Cooper for that matter). I have a feeling daytime television just found exactly what it’s been missing. Katie premieres Monday September 10th on ABC at 3pm. For more you can visit KatieCouric.com and follow the show on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.