CBS Is All Katie, but Rivals Aren’t Standing By

CBS Is All Katie, but Rivals Aren't Standing By 1To reintroduce Katie Couric to the country as a serious yet still accessible evening news anchor on Sept. 5, CBS has embarked on an image campaign worthy of a presidential candidate.

The network’s efforts will put her face on the front of every city bus in New York next month as part of a promotion that would cost in excess of $10 million if the national television commercials featuring her were bought by an outsider.

For all the maligning of the evening news as a dinosaur lurching toward extinction, the prize CBS is pursuing remains among the most lucrative and high-profile in television: the biggest share of the nearly 25 million viewers who still tune in to the three main news broadcasts each night, and the bulk of the nearly $400 million spent each year by advertisers trying to reach them.

Unlike her two main rivals, Brian Williams of NBC and Charles Gibson of ABC, Ms. Couric does not enjoy the incumbent’s advantage of already doing the news each weeknight — though they, too, have hardly sat idle.

Little wonder that CBS, which is paying Ms. Couric an estimated $15 million annually, has been convening focus groups at its research center in Las Vegas and other places to ask viewers such questions as how she will fare in a matchup against Mr. Williams, the leader in the Nielsen ratings, and Mr. Gibson, whose program is in second place.


The network would not say whether the ”CBS Evening News,” mired at No. 3 in the ratings for more than a decade, was able to raise its standing in that most recent internal polling. Regardless, it has used those responses from viewers, including the attributes they seek in an anchor, to help shape Ms. Couric’s broadcast.

Meanwhile, like local party leaders, news anchors from the top 48 CBS affiliates were flown to New York this month for a two-day junket in which each was given 10 minutes to interview Ms. Couric — all told, she talked for more than eight hours — for individual segments that will be broadcast prominently on each local station.

Though far more subdued, Mr. Williams and Mr. Gibson have nonetheless been making similar efforts, some of them mischievous in tone, to retain the viewers they have and woo others.

Beginning around Sept. 1, an image of Mr. Williams, four stories tall, will loom over the CBS Broadcast Center in Manhattan from a banner at West 57th Street and 10th Avenue. (Alongside will be another featuring Matt Lauer and Ms. Couric’s replacement as his partner on the ”Today” show, Meredith Vieira.)

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