Kara Swisher

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While Yahoo Gave Few Details About Couric’s New Role, Here’s What a Previous Deal With Her Wanted (Memo)


In her flashy announcement about the hiring of television news star Katie Couric as the global anchor and “face of Yahoo News,” CEO Marissa Mayer gave the very barest of details.

According to her blog post, there will be an unspecified “growing team of correspondents.” And Couric will be “shooting features for our homepage.” And she will start in early 2014.

For such a big move in news, there was an amazing lack of news about exactly what Couric would do — from the what to the when to the where to the how much.

Thank goodness for sources close to the situation, who note that the lack of specificity was due to the still largely undetermined solid specifics about what Couric is going to do for the millions of dollars she will be paid by Yahoo.

That’s due to a lot of reasons, including the fact that Couric still has another big job.

While she will no longer be a special correspondent for ABC News, which did not work out as planned on either side, that has not actually taken up a lot of her bandwidth of late.

Instead, she has been working on her five-day-a-week syndicated daytime talk show, called “Katie.” While its future is unclear, it still needs to complete its second season, and that will take up a lot of Couric’s time, according to numerous sources, which Mayer was aware of.

In addition, according to Yahoo sources, Couric can also do other projects, including on television, as part of the deal. She has a wide-ranging interest in a number of mediums, and someone who knows her said she sees the Yahoo anchor job as “another progression” in the news business.

While she has not been deeply involved in online in a major way until now, Couric has — like many major media figures — been dipping into the space a whole lot.

As far back as 2008, for example, she did Webcasts of events like the 2008 election. Couric also did @katiecouric — her Twitter handle — for CBS, which comprised a wide variety of online interviews, from sit-downs with Trudie Styler and Sting to one on teen dating violence to another on the disaster in Haiti. She also created “Katie Couric’s Notebook,” a one-minute look at an issue, which was available as an audio and video podcast.

Former Yahoo media chief Ross Levinsohn

Former Yahoo media chief Ross Levinsohn

The move into digital became much more serious in late 2010 and early 2011, when she met with then-Yahoo-media-head Ross Levinsohn about a deal with Yahoo while still at CBS, which was apparently supportive of the idea.

By March of 2011, there was a detailed term sheet that Yahoo drew up for the Couric deal, which I obtained. It outlined a huge effort and a variety of highly specific shows.

“The overarching opportunity is to bring Katie’s worldwide personality and expertise to Yahoo’s global audience of more than 680 million people,” it read. “In connection with a potential business arrangement, Yahoo will offer significant compensation (as set forth below), as well as promotional commitments to Katie Couric and initiatives across our network of media sites.”

Part of the deal was a joint venture project called “Katie Hub,” which would have been her home on Yahoo, part of which she would have also owned.

Among the shows to be made for Yahoo, according to the term sheet:

“Trending Now” Daily Digest: Katie hosts a short, dynamic multi-day digest produced for the broad Yahoo! audience that focuses on the key events happening around the world & drawing the most attention of Yahoo users. We will leverage the power of search and social media to empower Katie with proprietary audience insights for the creation of this program. Produced 3x/day (morning, lunch, end of day) this is the perfect vehicle for Katie to explain what are the need to know stories in an approachable, everyday-user tone.

“Only on Yahoo: Newsmakers:” A global interview series with major newsmakers across news, sports & entertainment. From Obama to Beckham to Sheen, we’re current and uniquely bringing these voices to Yahoo Globally using distribution and production optimized for an online audience.

Elections 2012. Yahoo! News will again host the biggest online audience for the 2012 Presidential Elections — projected to reach 100M+ users. Katie would be the face and voice of our election coverage — unbiased, relevant, with clear perspectives. Following our ground-breaking tradition of hosting the first ever online-only interview with sitting US President Bush, Katie will host the first ever online-only Presidential debate. Additionally, Katie will host our election night coverage & provide weekly commentary and perspective on the 2012 campaign. We will dedicate a top-notch team of bloggers and producers to support Katie throughout the entire cycle.

Yahoo! Olympics. Yahoo! Sports has dominated in our Olympics coverage for the past 3 Olympics, beating competitors such as NBC and ESPN.com consistently. We leverage our entire network to drive audience and awareness around the events. Katie will be the primary host, surrounded by former Olympians and other talent, bringing the best of London 2012, Sochi, Rio, etc to our global audience.

Specials. With Yahoo’s position as the premier digital media company, we have the strength of voice and audience to own the coverage of major tent pole events. From Oscars, to major once-in-a-lifetime events (like the 10th anniversary of 9/11), Yahoo will team up with Katie to create new, regular franchise “must see” events and disrupt the way these are presented.

Yahoo! Movies. Katie hosts pre-Oscars special or series, interviewing the front-runners and most interesting people tied to the biggest films in a uniquely Yahoo style.

Yahoo! News. Katie anchors our coverage of the 10 year remembrance of the 9/11 tragedy. Led by our planned Digital Moment of Silence, Yahoo will focus our coverage on honoring the people we lost, the heroes we found, and the inspirational stories that rose out of tragedy.

Original Programming Brainstorms. Katie, Yahoo’s Originals team and Katie’s representatives will collaborate on other programming and concepts, as would be mutually satisfactory. This programming might include concepts across a variety of topics, potentially including:

Shine. Create a Yahoo! Originals video program focusing on Champion Moms — inspirational stories of entrepreneurial Women driving innovation and taking charge. This could be an ongoing sponsored program.

Katie Hub. A dedicated hub on Yahoo! where Katie can offer content and attract interesting voices, commentary and opinions from celebrities and newsmakers alike. The hub will be a home base (shared by tens of millions of readers) to contribute and build conversations. We’ll offer the opportunity to create a unique experience on Yahoo, featuring Katie, and Yahoo will provide the ability store, promote, and archive all the content.

Yahoo’s real value, above any other destination, is our scope of audience and marketing expertise to optimize all this unique voice and content to be found by both search engines and Yahoo’s millions and millions of users.

Whew — I am exhausted just reading about all this!

As part of that deal, Couric would have been barred from working for any third-party Internet site, “including, without limitation AOL, MSN, Google, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox News, or CNN without the prior approval of Yahoo.”

The payment information did not give any specifics, but it was over a three-year period, and sources said it was for many millions of dollars. And for staffing, she was to get a “dedicated blogger, supporting all Katie’s projects and day-to-day voice,” an executive producer, executive and personal assistants, and a social media editor.

And more: A digital video producer and supporting team; a blogging team to augment Yahoo News’s original voice; a booking agent for syndication, media outlets; PR support; and talent (contractor) support as needed for key tent pole projects (2012 Elections, 9/11 10-year anniversary, Olympics, Oscars coverage, Interviews, etc.)

For all this, according to the term sheet, Couric would have had to do “no less than four annual appearances for and on behalf of Yahoo,” such as at Yahoo’s sales conference and the Cannes Film Festival. She also would have had to be “available to join Yahoo on sales calls for Yahoo’s top advertising and media clients.”


But none of this came to pass, and Couric apparently never saw the term sheet. She was already deep in negotiations to move to ABC, which she did in May. In that contract, though, ABC won Couric’s digital rights, and was not keen to part with them.

Instead, Levinsohn morphed the Couric deal into a larger one with Disney-owned ABC, announced in October, in which she would be a small component, including “Katie’s Take,” using recycled material from her show.

But Couric was not at the center of the action in any way.

Until, of course, she and Mayer began their dialogue in the spring — along with Yahoo News head Rob Barrett — beginning at a company event for marketers in the Turks and Caicos islands, which Couric attended.

“This was a long time coming,” said one Yahoo exec. “It just took a very long time.”

And now, presumably, we get to see what that wait will finally mean for Couric and Yahoo.

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— Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, in their farewell D post