I didn't watch Katie Couric's debut last night as anchor of the CBS Evening News. And, from the perspective of news executives and advertisers, I'm part of the problem. Your humble correspondent, along with literally millions of other Americans, have simply stopped watching the network's evening news broadcasts. As one TV industry analyst noted a couple of years ago, Tom Brokaw had fewer viewers in 2004 (as anchor of top-rated NBC Nightly News) than he did in 1984, when his program was mired in third place. True, the aggregate audience for the network's evening newscasts still dwarfs those of other media outlets (namely the cable channels), but there has been a dramatic, irrefutable drop in viewership over the past 20 years.
A number of theories have been advanced for this exodus; increased competition from cable outlets, the advent of the internet, longer hours on the job for many Americans and the entry of more women into the workplace etc. There's probably an element of truth in each of these explanations, but they ignore a more important--and obvious--reason for the tune-out: many of us simply don't trust the networks, and a news delivery platform that was conceived more than 60 years ago. Describing the 30-minute evening news format (including commercials) as a broadcast dinosaur is almost a disservice to extinct, pre-historic creatures. Ms. Couric may go down in history as the first solo female anchor of a network newscast, and one of the last big-time TV anchors, period. In an era of podcasts, streaming video, instant messaging and news on demand, a network anchor seems largely redundant. If the evening network anchor survives into the next decade, they may morph into something like the newsreaders on the BBC, and less like today's media stars. All those aspiring anchors now clogging the halls of the nation's journalism schools might want to consider a career change.
Sad fact is, most of the viewers who've given up on the evening news aren't coming back. Quite frankly, we lost interest years ago, discovering that we could glean--and share--better, more accurate information with a flew clicks of a computer mouse. But it is interesting to watch the nightly network newscasts in their death throes. CBS--currently stuck in last place--is apparently opting for the "news lite" approach with its new anchor, who made her mark in the fluffy world of morning news. If early reviews are any indication, Ms. Couric may be no more successful than her predecessor.
At least one TV industry wag has described the "new" CBS Evening News as the broadcast equivalent of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. That may be a bit harsh, but it's the truth. More viewers keep going over the side, but hey, that new set looks awfully nice. And the band played on.