The Big Build Up (To the Big Let Down?)

There was a tremendous amount of hype given to Katie Couric anchoring the CBS Evening News, and it seems to have paid off in terms of attracting a new audience. Almost 14 million viewers tuned in to watch Katie read the headlines, and that’s quite an impressive debut for an anchor.

Typically, the evening news has about 8 million viewer a night — in a country of over 295 million. That’s pretty paltry, but considering how many different ways people get their news these days, I suppose it’s enough to keep network news alive.

But I’m not so sure that the evening network newscasts are going to survive much longer –unless they change their formats to keep people interested. For years (really since the rise of cable TV) the audience that watches network news has been dwindling. The hardcore audience that watches the Big Three each night to get their headlines is much older, too. That means as the core audience starts to die off, the numbers will continue to fall. And when you couple that with the fact that younger generations don’t watch TV for news (most get their news information from the Internet, Jon Stewart, and Steven Colbert), you get a recipe for cancellation.

Couric may be able to turn things around. She is, after all, the anchor. And as the anchor, she has a great deal of power to influence the content and format of the program. But will she be able to make the needed changes before the audience that tuned in to see what all the fuss was about, tunes out? Given that our society is becoming more and more conditioned to the rapidity of change that the Internet culture reinforces, I think it’s going to be very difficult (but not impossible) to revamp the network news to keep pace with the click, click, click of the mouse.

On many levels, I hope I’m wrong!

–PK