Katie Couric vs. Sarah Palin: why battle for morning show supremacy is so hot(Read article summary)
ABC called in a.m. TV queen Katie Couric to trump NBC's 'Today' show. NBC called in Sarah Palin. When it comes to morning shows, networks are defending valuable turf.
Ida Mae Astute/ABC/AP
If you thought morning news shows were just about weather and cooking, think again. As Katie Couricâ€™s high-profile stint on "Good Morning America" this week â€“ and her faceoff with Sarah Palin on NBC Tuesday â€“ shows, that a.m. TV real estate has become broadcastingâ€™s high-stakes battleground.
Those morning shows, which many people experience only as background noise to their morning rush, fill many important roles for the networks as they face declining viewershipÂ amid increased competition from other news sources.
They help drive brand loyalty,Â provide a rich landscape for advertising and cross-brand promotion, and above all else, produce a steady cash flow. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the â€śToday" show brough in more than $500 million in ad revenue in 2010.Â
â€śMorning shows are like the Rock of Gibraltar,â€ť says Paul Levinson, author of â€śNew New Media.â€ť â€śWhen you get up in the morning and are getting ready to leave, you donâ€™t have time to go online or listen too closely, so they have adapted to that role of being background noise with just enough information to keepÂ Â people listening.â€ťÂ
Peopleâ€™s eyes and ears are fresh and ready to take in information, he says, but in a passive mode. â€śThis is why morning television has been so impervious to competition from the web,â€ť he adds.
â€śThe biggest mistake morning TV could make is simply to put the wrong person in that host seat,â€ť he adds.
Finding that person is a kind of network art that has proved maddeningly elusive, saysÂ Brian Balthazar, editor ofÂ popgoestheweek.comÂ and a former â€śToday" show supervising producer.Â
â€śEver since Katie Couric took the nation by storm [in 1991], other networks have been trying to capture the same kind of magic with varying degrees of success,â€ť he says. But as the sparks between NBC and ABC this week show, they will continue to try.
NBC has ruled the morning ratings war for some 16 years. ABC had hoped to break that reign this week, but the early ratings show that on Monday at least,Â NBC still held the lead.Â
â€śThe morning shows have become an integral part of a networkâ€™s look, feel, and brand,â€ť says Mr. Balthazar.
Pointing to the four hours that make up NBCâ€™s â€śToday" show morning block, he says, â€śThatâ€™s a huge amount of programming and it really influences the way people perceive and identify the network."
But this weekâ€™s hosting battle is a bad sign, says Mark Tatge, a journalism professor at DePauw University in Indiana. â€śThis represents a sharp turn in a shrill direction,â€ť he says. â€śIt is a sad commentary that this is produced by the networkâ€™s news division.â€ť
While he acknowledges that the format has demonstrated a unique staying power during the past 60 years of broadcast TV, he says â€śall of television is in a major transition,â€ťÂ with everything moving online. TheÂ broadcast model of local affiliates as it has existed for decades â€śis falling apart.â€ť
Whether the morning shows will continue to exist in the forms as we know them today, he adds, â€śis a real question with the breakup of the network model.â€ť
But there has been much hand-wringing over the future of broadcast television for many years, says Robert Thompson, founder of the Bleier Center of Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University in New York.
â€śWhen people talk about the end of broadcast television, I hope they are not talking about the morning programs,â€ť he says.Â Â
They are cheap to produce, relative to scripted shows, and have adapted to what people want in thoseÂ early hours of the day. â€śThese shows are all about programming that needs to be watched live,â€ť he says, much like the Super Bowl, whose ratings continue to climb.
â€śNobody replays the weather over the weekend,â€ś he says. â€śRegular television is still the best way to see most live programming.â€ťÂ