Some might have expected CBS to rest on its laurels come this fall, having successfully lured Katie Couric away from NBC's Today with a four-year, $60 million contract.
Couric's name alone is likely to draw a new crop of viewers to the CBS Evening News - albeit mostly curious Today loyalists - which has long been third in the ratings race. But instead of just being a ceremonious figurehead and fodder for gossip headlines, it appears that Couric will be at the center of an overhaul for the network's news program when she reports to work on September 5.
"[CBS] is never going to have as much market share for interest as the first day she starts," says Nick Ragone,
SVP, director of New York media for Ketchum's communications and media strategy network, "so why not culminate [changes] around that? Clearly everybody is paying attention to everything it does right now."
In meetings over the past few weeks, Couric and Sean McManus, president of CBS News and Sports, unveiled to television beat reporters the changes that will take place. Among them are daily Web-exclusive features that will consist of extended interviews by Couric and other CBS news correspondents, and will be available for podcast. Couric will also provide a Web-only news preview, giving viewers insight into which stories are being considered for the evening newscast.
"By focusing on the Internet, CBS is going to able to grab an incredible audience out there," says Dave Bloom a former television news anchor and president of Bloom Public Relations. "It's just great strategy. CBS is not merely sitting back and putting Couric on the evening news. It is utilizing all the great resources it has."
In keeping with the era of transparency ushered in by the CBS Public Eye blog, the evening program will have its own blog featuring links to free video, as well as contributions by CBS news correspondents.
The concept of a news program blog isn't new. After all, NBC's Brian Williams began doing one about a year ago. Still, it seems to tie in with CBS' quite apparent strategy of using Couric to draw in a much-needed younger audience. The fact that Couric appeared on the cover of the AARP's magazine last year is of little concern.
"They're going to look to go young, which makes a lot of sense," notes Bob Brody, SVP and media specialist at Ogilvy PR. "The average age of your network evening news viewer is probably somewhere between moribund and posthumous."
And so, making CBS Evening News content available on Verizon's Vcast service is probably a step in the right direction. So, too, is simulcasting the television broadcast's lead segment on CBS Radio News, a definite sign that the network is realizing, after all these years, that not everyone is at home glued to their TV sets at 6:30pm.
"This marks the beginning of a new chapter for CBS," Bloom says. "The launch of these new strategies could not have come at a more perfect time. Quite frankly, it's a no-brainer."
He adds that the decision to add complementary Web components to the TV broadcast speaks to the network's marketing strategy.
"Its great to see that CBS is finally being creative in its approach to PR and marketing," notes Bloom. "CBS had to come up with ways to promote Katie and the CBS Evening News [aside from the television news itself], and it did it. If you bring in these other vehicles... now you have a potential winning formula."
But in the end, will all of these additions and enhancements in delivery make a difference where it counts - in the ratings?
"All of those add-ons have become a given at this point," says Brody. "What's going to count more than anything is the content. That's how you make a name for yourself."