June 14th, 2007
Dan Rather’s criticism of his old employer, CBS News, wreaked havoc this week. With Katie Couric in the $16M anchor chair, CBS News is experiencing the worst ratings in its history. Mr. Rather asserted that the Tiffany Network caused the ratings slide in its news division by “dumbing it down and tarting it up.” Les Moonves, president of CBS, shot back by labeling Rather’s comments “sexist.” Sexist? More like spot-on.
I rarely agree with Dan Rather, but I concur with him in this case. Why did CBS dumb down and tart up its news division? It’s not rocket science, folks. Look no further than Paris Hilton. There is no other way to provide round-the-clock coverage of her pathetic life than to use small words and pretty pictures. But, that’s what the masses want, and that’s what all the networks are delivering to them. If you want to know what real sexism is, Mr. Moonves, it’s following a blonde bubblehead from dawn ’til dusk.
There is, however, more to the debacle at CBS Evening News than the blonde-izing of it. This venerable broadcast slot had become a magnet for people in their 60s, mostly males. As such, it is an advertiser’s nightmare and a money-loser for any network. So, CBS News decided to target young females — fresh college graduates up to those in their mid-30s.
CBS’s solution: hire the perky Katie Couric, whom the target audience loved on the Today Show. Unfortunately, the Today Show and hard news are lightyears apart and require different personalities. Even the affable Matt Lauer couldn’t cut it in hard news.
Wardrobe Shifts and Experiments
I remember when Katie Couric arrived. Mothers exclaimed that they would watch her with their daughters, marking a new chapter in feminist history. Yeah, right. I couldn’t take more than five minutes of her program. Because she couldn’t think of a signoff, she asked her audience to suggest one — a demonstration of zero authority. Then, she began a series of wardrobe shifts and experiments, then alternated standing and sitting while delivering the news — more evidence that something was awry.
All of this was predictable, because there are three fundamental flaws in CBS’s business strategy:
Katie Couric — the wrong person in a vanishing job, seeking a nonexistent female audience — is now delivering news to a dwindling crowd of 60-something men while the ratings plummet. Hiring Katie Couric was a fundamental violation of Marketing 101, at a sunk cost of $16M per year and untold opportunity costs in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
The situation at CBS News is unworkable, and Les Moonves will have to deal with the inevitable, sooner or later. He keeps saying he wants to give Katie “more time,” but that is a ruse, a stalling tactic. Calling Dan Rather’s remarks sexist is pure sophistry and defensiveness.
Eventually, and maybe sooner than we think, Mr. Moonves will be forced to give Katie Couric the bad news: “Good night and good luck.”
POSTSCRIPT #1: Katie Couric Is Probably Leaving CBS Evening News
About the Author
Marc Rudov is a branding advisor to CEOs,
producer of MarcRudovTV, and author of the book,
Be Unique or Be Ignored: The CEO’s Guide to Branding.
© 2007 Marc H. Rudov. All Rights Reserved.