ABC will be embarking on Monday’s installment of Diane Sawyer as anchor of its nightly Word News show without the hoopla and celebration that CBS had with Katie Couric’s debut on CBS Evening News in 2006. In a recent email sent to ABC News staffers earlier this week, ABC News head David Westin said, “If is better to build steadily and perform over time than to launch a major campaign targeting the first day.”
Also, audiences are used to Diane Sawyer and see her as a respected news journalist, something her CBS rival was said not have and was criticized for in ’06. In an interview, Wold News producer Jon Banner said that audiences are “familiar” with Sawyer’s work.
“We don’t necessarily need to introduce her to our audience,” says Banner. “We want to keep the focus on the news. We’re not in this business to be in second place, (but) nothing is going to happen overnight.”
Yet Couric’s debut may have had the cards stacked against her.
“Her network did announce that they would change the face of evening news,” says Martin Kaplan, director of the Norman Lear Center and journalism professor at the University of Southern California. “That was a burden that Katie Couric had to bear and that is not happening with the case of Diane Sawyer.”
Sawyer’s appointment as anchor may be seen as less of a gamble than Couric’s, but any major change can be risky with the millions of dollars in advertising revenue at stake.
“More people go to the bathroom during the commercial break on network evening news than are watching cable news. Compared to other niche audiences, the evening news packs a wallop,” Kaplan said.
Still, cable television and the Internet have lured viewers away from the traditional networks like ABC, NBC and CBS. The audience for evening news has dropped significantly with viewership down from more than 52 million in 1980 to near 25 million in 2008, according to Stateofthemedia.org.
But evening news programs remain profitable.
In 2008, NBC Nightly News generated $146 million in advertising revenue, ABC World News had $159 million in ad revenue, and CBS Evening News recorded $166 million, according to data from TNS Media Intelligence.
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