Katie Couric’s Bad Bet: Leaving ABC News for Yahoo

Katie Couric Marissa Meyer Yahoo

A TV heavyweight nests on a wobbly digital perch. What could go wrong?

After stints at CNN, NBC, CBS and ABC, maybe Katie Couric is going to Yahoo because there is simply nowhere else to go.

While reports Friday suggesting Couric is exiting her ABC News deal a year early to move to Yahoo shouldn’t be surprising considering the move has been rumored for months, that doesn’t make her impending arrival seem any less an awkward fit.

Sure, it’s going to make a good headline for Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, who may have scored her biggest coup since spending over $1 billion on Tumblr. Yahoo has teetered between media company and technology outfit for so long that the market may take the Couric pickup as the biggest indication in a long while that Mayer is still committed to the former.

But Yahoo has long had this tortured relationship with the establishment media world that dates back to the days when Hollywood vets like Terry Semel and Lloyd Braun prowled its Santa Monica hallways in hopes of bridging the worlds of entertainment and the Internet. It’s much easier said than done, and maybe only Netflix has really done it successfully after all this time.

Couric has always been admirably aggressive about experimenting with online video and social media, so this is no neophyte putting a toe in new waters. But the problem is she is still a fixture of the old media world. Regardless of how willing she is to shed her skin and embrace new ways, the world still mostly sees her in the over-familiar constructs of “anchor” and “talkshow host.”

Couric will no doubt be added to a list of other media luminaries Mayer has lured over to Yahoo like David Pogue and Megan Liberman, but she is of an entirely different stratosphere as a creation of TV, not the print world. And yet that could be what hurts her most. She is such a creature of a different and indelible medium that she simply can’t come alive again in the way that a digital-native personality with a news orientation, like a Philip DeFranco, could be.

Couric has already had plenty of exposure on Yahoo via its partnership with ABC News, and you can only assume that Mayer has the data that showed her site’s audiences are gravitating to her. Yahoo also has a variety of femme-skewing properties that are probably great cross-promotional opportunities.

But Yahoo has not shown any kind of consistent ability to support name-brand talent on its platform. In fact, the only thing that has truly worked is comedic series “Burning Love,” from Paramount’s Insurge Pictures and Red Hour Digital, which didn’t rely on big star power on its way to multiple seasons that graduated to TV via cable channel E! Then there’s the shortform video equivalent of Doritos like “Primetime in No Time” that Yahoo makes work on the cheap. Millions have munched all they want, and Yahoo just keeps making more of them (a third spinoff, “Late Night in No Time,”  quietly launched recently).

Portals like Yahoo and AOL have a marvelous ability to push significant amounts of traffic to virtually any content with placement on their still-prominent homepages. But that is not a strategy for the long term given those homepages are being visited in declining numbers. What’s more, these audiences aren’t the kind of consistently returning visitors that display the kind of engagement metrics advertisers care about.

This is going to be a real test to see if Yahoo can do what they’ve never really done well before: Justify the big bucks that no doubt had to be spent to get Couric with the kind of well-orchestrated promotional assault that will bring eyeballs. The kind of eyeballs that actually come back a second or third time, too.

In fairness to Couric, there may not be a news personality on planet Earth that any digital property can bring in that will truly move the needle in terms of traffic and revenues.

Still, you can’t help but root for Couric to finally figure out how to reinvent herself. It’s downright courageous of her to make a headfirst dive into a very uncertain future, not just at Yahoo but in any part of the digital landscape. Many of her cohorts would probably sooner retire than risk being seen as slumming it.

The upside is that if she can make it work, she’ll be seen as a visionary. It’s hard to see how that could come to pass, but that will make it seem all the more amazing if she pulls it off.

Maybe short of faking a conversion to conservatism to join the gang at Fox News Channel, she’s going to Yahoo because it’s the only move left to make.

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  1. Jere Smith says:

    Barf!

  2. Mike Johnson says:

    I’d just like to say that Katie is one of the most awsome people I’ve ever seen or watched. If she is even half as sencere as she seems to be than I think she’ll do great! I love you girl. Keep up the great work!! PS I wish you weren’t married. You have the most beautiful personality to match the fact that you are one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen!!!!!!

  3. George says:

    Every time Yahoo makes a change, they “require” that I “upgrade” or change something. Each of those changes do NOTHING positive for Yahoo and only keep (more) people away.

  4. Joe Davis says:

    Katie Couric is the poster girl for failing upward. She left the Today Show, and ratings went up with Meredith Vieria. She left CBS Evening News after 5 years of declining, 3rd place ratings, and ratings went up the day Bob Schieffer stepped in as interim anchor. She does a terrible talk show, with bad ratings in year one, dropping further in year two. Congrats Yahoo, you got a real winner.

  5. Jensen Bound says:

    Yahoo is till around? If so, it’s a match made in heaven.

  6. Holdon McGroin says:

    Nobody cares; yahoo is irrelevant on today’s internet. If you want to get a taste for how dismally Yahoo is viewed, pick any article they publish and read the comments. The only thing any good about anything on Yahoo is the comment section. Yahoo is to news and commentary as Alex Baldwin is to the social graces.

  7. Doug Hansen says:

    Hey. Or maybe it’s not such good news for Ms. Meyer, Yahoo and Yahoo stockholders. Quick, what is the name of that online news network that Dan Rather went to? Just sayin’.

    These people are fossils just as is the old big three network world.

  8. It may be time that Katie poses nude in Playboy. I’m talking full-frontal, out-in-the-open, blowing-in-the-breeze nude. I’d buy that issue, sure …

  9. Cats01 says:

    Have tried to watch her talk show. Have been unable to spend more than 5 minutes before going elsewhere. Maybe she can pull the Yahoo venture off. Who knows?

  10. Katie is an Almost-Was, her biggest splash was on morning TV and it’s been grasping for straws ever since, so really it’s a match made in heaven, but not in the sense of garnering success; it’s precarious for both of them.

  11. theotherhanddude says:

    I think the problem is she’s NOT a heavyweight. Katie is quietly being forced out. The humiliation of being fired yet again is too much to go public.

  12. gumsnapper says:

    If people didn’t watch her on tv, why would they watch her online? And how many people visit yahoo? I never have and doubt I ever will. Isn’t it a search engine and a news site? What else do they offer that I can’t find elsewhere?

  13. Jere Smith says:

    She is basically washed up with the Big networks anyway she won.t last very long.

  14. Sorry – I think it’s a smart move. She doesn’t need to get ratings online She just has to build an awareness and move eyeballs to the site. Which she will do. All programming is on demand. This is all part of a huge shift in media to over the top and everything being on demand. 2014 will be a bloodbath in the traditional media space… it will not be pretty for those working in “old media.”
    http://mankabros.com/blogs/onmedea/2013/11/22/the-great-media-bloodbath-of-2014/

  15. Lea DiCenso says:

    I agree it’s risky – but all change is a risk. Katie should do what she feels is right for her. We only go around once.

  16. G. Fasolo says:

    Katie, are you crazy ????? Stay with ABC If you want to move, go to mornings !!!!

  17. David Guirao Tatlitug says:

    Nothing wrong with katies talk show but it’s not a big change just longer interviews. Audiences are fickeled. Maybe they want to not sure and cry in the afternoon. ellen gives the viewer fun and changes up her games etc each season. Everyone could learn from her. I. Katie were not 20 million a year she’d be great leading a show like the view where she could show her other side. It took Barbara Walters from stuffy reporter to fun and someone to relate to.

  18. mremanne says:

    The internet is the elephants graveyard for network newsies. Dan Rather still does exceptional work, but who sees it? Instead of blowing big bucks on a fading news hen, Yahoo should be trying to fix the one thing that keeps people around on their site: Yahoo Mail. It’s gotten so bad of late it’s barely useable. Come on Yahoo, don’t build a new building, just fix the sidewalk!

    • Smooth says:

      If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?

      • Matt says:

        Is that you Katie? I see you’ve hissed at every critical comment here. If you were half that genuine on tv, you wouldn’t need so many moving boxes.

      • volatile says:

        And attacking every person who posts who are addressing the SUBJECT of the article proves intellectual superiority…

        In other news, no one moves for no good reason: it’s not a contestable point to admit her ratings are not profitable, people want news and quickly, not a personality (whatever she can call what she has as one I guess…). In la-la land up there where they have a whole different world of social contacts, someone still thinks she can pull revenue with commercial sales online. But if people still watch things like cute cats doing cute things on youtube, well, hell, anything is possible, right?

  19. Jiminy Critic says:

    Cute does not age well..

    • EK says:

      What will she actually DO at Yahoo? Her mass market appeal has obviously dwindled in the broadcast realm so what does she bring to the portal? Besides, demographically she’s a bad fit for Yahoo’s intended growth audience so it’s hard to see what will be accomplished by this move.

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