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It's a brief honeymoon for Couric

September 13, 2006|Scott Collins | Times Staff Writer

Katie Couric's ratings are settling down to less-than-superstar levels.

Last week, fresh from an enormous PR blitz, the new anchor of "CBS Evening News" started her job with a bang. Couric's first telecast on Sept. 5 broke records, with an average of 13.6 million total viewers tuning in, according to figures from Nielsen Media Research. The result gave network executives hope that they could reinvigorate the evening newscast in the wake of continued audience declines over many years.

But since then, the former co-host of NBC's "Today" has seen her numbers drift downward. Many inside and outside CBS had expected a gradual falloff after the premiere, but the sudden descent has been jarring.

After winning the ratings race every night last week, Couric finished a surprising No. 3 (7.5 million total viewers) for her Monday newscast, dominated by the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. That was behind "NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams" (8.3 million) and ABC's "World News With Charles Gibson" (7.9 million).

The drop-off has been especially severe among women ages 25 to 54, who showed up in large numbers for Couric's debut. By Friday, "Evening News" had lost more than half of that audience.

Veteran evening news analyst Andrew Tyndall said the decline was not surprising, given the blaze of hype that accompanied Couric's debut. "Curiosity gets you sampled, but it doesn't guarantee you viewers," Tyndall said.

The real test of Couric's value, he added, will consist of how many Internet users she drives to the network's website: "They're using her to promote CBS News on all platforms, not just TV."

Regardless of ratings, Couric has had a significant effect on the content of "Evening News." Tyndall wrote in a recent report that the CBS newscast now features substantially less hard-news reporting and fewer taped pieces from correspondents than its rivals. Couric's newscast instead offers more interviews and guest commentaries.

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