With Katie Couric, Disney-ABC Domestic Television has arguably the biggest name in the plethora of new talk shows set for debuts this fall in the wake of Oprah Winfrey’s departure from syndication. "We are projecting profitability in year one," says Disney-ABC Domestic Television President Janice Marinelli. Her confidence stems from Couric herself. She credible and "relatable" and she's made a commitment to doing whatever it takes in production and promotion, she says. "How often do you get a talent of this caliber to enter the syndication marketplace?"
Marinelli Sees ‘Katie’ As Can’t-Miss Talker
As well as anybody, Disney-ABC Domestic Television President Janice Marinelli knows the long odds of producing a successful first-run talk show in broadcast syndication. But she expresses nothing but confidence that Disney-ABC’s entry in the crowded fielded, Katie with former Today host and CBS News anchor Katie Couric, will not only survive, but thrive this fall.
“We are projecting profitability in year one,” she says. “If we just take the clearances that we have secured — we’re on dominant TV stations, virtually all afternoon time periods — we show profitability on the show. We are very bullish about the rating and CPM. And our license fees are very strong.”
In this interview with TVNewsCheck Contributing Editor Kevin Downey, Marinelli talks about the source of all that confidence, what the show will be like and Couric’s commitment to making it a rare, first-run winner.
An edited transcript:
Disney-ABC hasn’t a launched a first-run daytime talk show in several years. Why now?
It is our first strip in quite some time. We are really a company that focuses on quality more than quantity. If there’s an opportunity in the marketplace, married with a great talent or concept, then you’ll see us aggressively pursuing it. But we’re not going to be in the market just to have a new first-run show every year.
We view ourselves as distributors of content. It could be off-net content, it could be first-run content or it could be movies. It could be on multiple platforms — VOD, basic cable, pay network or broadcast syndication. We have a lot of product and a lot of responsibility in North America, so we’re opportunistic. If it’s the right product and right opportunity, we’ll jump in.
Katie is the first Monday-Friday strip you’re debuting in many years. Was your team prepared to launch it?
Yes, because we’ve had a lot of product on the off-net side. I’d say that ABC Studios has been one of the most successful production entities over the last five years or so. We’ve had Castle, Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy, Lost, Ugly Betty, Private Practice. On the non-scripted side, we’ve had Wipeout and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. The list goes on and on.
So, we have a full sales force because we’re already handling a lot of product in the marketplace. We’re also renewing Live! with Kelly. We have Millionaire and movie packages. We’ve always had the team in place.
Have you been surprised by the resurgence of first-run talk shows since Oprah Winfrey ended her long-running show in 2011?
There’s a great opportunity in the marketplace. I don’t think anyone thinks they’re going to fill Oprah’s shoes; Oprah is in a class all her own. But with Oprah leaving the syndication marketplace, it created not only wonderful time periods on terrific stations, it also created a need. Now, there’s a void.
Every season, we see a plethora of new products coming out. But Oprah had a unique place in the market; it was smart talk. That’s the opportunity. That is what we have gravitated toward. It’s the business that our own TV stations and many of the top affiliates across the country are in. They’re looking for news compatibility. They’re looking for a strong news lead-in because news is their franchise.
Katie is one of four high-profile talk shows debuting in broadcast syndication in 2012. Did that make it challenging for Disney to gain the clearances that it has?
There was a lot of competition in the marketplace, but I don’t necessarily think we were competing with the new shows. We led the marketplace. To be very honest, TV stations waited for us to come in and for our deal to fall in place. The other distributors followed behind. We’re sort of the lead dog this year. We have the highest profile talent, the most experienced talent and the biggest name. We have the best clearances. So, Katie has led the charge.
Our competition is the more established talk show arena — Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, Ellen. Those are the shows we’re being compared to, not the other upcoming talk shows.
Is there enough advertising in the market to support four new daytime talk shows?
We have had conversations with advertisers. We have been out in the marketplace. Our feeling is that Katie will lead the charge and set the market. Given the strength of our lineups and our markets, we’re going to be competing for dollars with the established shows.
When it comes to securing ad dollars and station clearances, what is the main selling point of Katie?
Katie is a brand. She’s a household name. That certainly gives you a leg up in this marketplace. She’s credible and relatable. She’s respected and smart. When you say the name Katie Couric, it commands respect. So, we have a tremendous advantage. How often do you get a talent of this caliber to enter the syndication marketplace?
Did Katie Couric meet with TV station groups when you were out getting station clearances?
She was absolutely involved….She’s aware of every single clearance. Jeff Zucker made calls with us. He’s a big asset in this process. He’s very well respected. Katie herself reached out to many stations after the deals were closed. She offered her support in any way to market the show. She’s greatly involved.
Speaking of marketing, have you figured out how you will promote the show? If so, how involved will Katie Couric be?
Promotion hasn’t started just yet. It’s a little early. We’ll start that in earnest this spring. Katie is absolutely committed to meeting local stations. She’s already gone out to meet with several. She will step that up as we get closer to launch.
She will do all the press. She’ll be doing promotion and publicity. She’ll make station visits and she’ll go on local shows and local newscasts. She’s dedicated and passionate about launching this show.
Katie Couric is doing segments on ABC News. Do you see that as a promotional platform for her daytime talk show?
There will be some promotional benefit. Oprah Winfrey used to do primetime specials for ABC, as well. We have Meredith Vieira, our host on Millionaire, who also was the Today show co-host. There is absolutely a benefit when a big talent is exposed to the broadest possible audience.
Katie is still in development. At this point, what is the format of the show?
It’s going to be live, five days a week. We are producing it in the afternoon [3 p.m. ET] so that it will be as current as possible. It will be interviews with newsmakers, celebrities, authors, experts and ordinary people. It will be a very high-profile, smart talk show.
Will the show address one topic per episode?
Sometimes, if a topic warrants it, and there’s enough interest and material for one topic. If there are other times that we feel it will be better as multilayered with several segments, we’ll produce it that way. We will also have regular contributors on the show.
Who will those regular contributors be?
You’ll hear more about this in the coming months.
The show will be live. Will it incorporate news?
She’s not reading the news and she’s not reporting the news. But if something happens, like a tsunami or the Gabby Giffords situation, absolutely. That is the value of a live show. When viewers sit down to watch it, they are going to feel that the show is relevant and that they’re getting information as it is happening. So, yes, we’ll talk about big news events, but we’re not reporting the news.
Will the show air only in the afternoons?
More than 90% of the clearances are in the afternoon. There were a handful of markets where we had a stronger opportunity to go on in the morning. In those cases, especially on the East Coast, those stations will take the show on a day delay. But it’s a very small number — just a handful. We are looking at this show long-term. There is every indication that when time periods become available, the show will be upgraded. We are taking the long view on this show.
Can stations double-run Katie?
Yes, and we have many double runs committed. But no cable. This is a broadcast TV exclusive. We are very excited that this is an opportunity for our broadcast stations to have a high-profile, big-name talent that is exclusive to their stations.
When the show was first announced, the ABC network gave up its 3 p.m. time slot to make room for it. Would Katie have gotten off the ground without that time slot?
We are in a wonderful position with our ABC stations. They didn’t have much opportunity; they already had commitments for great shows. So, to get Katie on our own TV stations, we did have to take an hour from ABC daytime. But I think that just shows the company’s commitment to the show.
There has been a lot of talk about the high cost to produce the show. Is there a specific demo rating that Katie has to achieve in order to generate enough barter ad sales to break even?
We are projecting profitability in year one. If we just take the clearances that we have secured – we’re on dominant TV stations, virtually all afternoon time periods – we show profitability on the show. We are very bullish about the rating and CPM. And our license fees are very strong.
Switching gears, when will Live! with Kelly announce a permanent co-host to replace Regis Philbin?
There is no set timeframe for the selection of Kelly’s new co-host. We are going to take our time, just as we did when Kathie Lee Gifford departed the show. We are looking for someone that has chemistry with Kelly, someone who can play off of her and have fun with her.
Since Regis left in November, Kelly has had quite a few guest co-hosts. Are they all in contention for the permanent spot?
Yes, everybody is a contender.