Kara Swisher

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Katie Couric Deal to Become Yahoo’s “Global News Anchor” Set to Be Announced Monday


As AllThingsD had first reported in August that it was working on, Yahoo is poised to announce a deal with well-known television news star Katie Couric to do a high-profile online interview show on its home page.

The deal is set to be announced on Monday, said multiple sources at the company, which could designate Couric as “global anchor” of the Silicon Valley Internet giant.

That title could change, of course. So could the deal or its timing, although it seems set now after months of negotiations with ABC News, which is both Yahoo’s online news partner and Couric’s current home network.

It’s not clear when the show itself will debut, though. It is likely to center on exclusive interviews with a range of high-profile celebrities, business execs and more, done by Couric specifically for the Web and prominently featured on Yahoo’s heavily trafficked main page.

There have been negotiations among the trio over many months, since Disney-owned ABC apparently holds rights to Couric’s digital output for the term of her ongoing contract. Some news outlets are reporting that Couric will leave her special correspondent job at ABC, where she has not actually appeared much. She also has a syndicated talk show that runs through the end of the season.

It’s the latest flashy move by CEO Marissa Mayer to try to goose the staid image of Yahoo and provide users with unique reasons to come to Yahoo. Couric and other content initiatives are part of a larger plan to differentiate the site.

Mayer has spearheaded the latest efforts herself, using her own tech celeb status, including hiring the New York Times’ tech reviewer David Pogue for a new tech site and also engaging in talks with well-known TV personality and producer Ryan Seacrest about possible ideas.

As I noted in a previous post:

This has been tried by the Silicon Valley Internet giant many times before, mostly without a lot of groundbreaking. That said: Netflix’s “House of Cards,” people!

And, of course, Yahoo already has some great and successful — though less flashy — content efforts going, especially in sports and finance. These have been flat-out terrific over the years, though the new streaming content redesign does not do them any favors, IMHO.

In addition, Mayer is essentially using a similar content playbook to that of former media and sales head Ross Levinsohn, who lost the top job to her. Until recently, she has been focused on other areas, such as mobile, although this is the kind of move like those she tried to make at Google when she was an exec there.

Perhaps more interestingly, it is a novel shift by Couric, who sources said became interested in the idea of doing a Web-only news show when she attended a Yahoo event for advertisers in the Caribbean last fall.

That said, pre-Mayer, Couric had also been engaged in talks with the company for some kind of Internet presence since early 2011, according to internal memos from Yahoo from the time (more on that later). And she also had talks back in 2004 when Lloyd Braun was running Yahoo media. (Lloyd is vindicated!)

It’s a risky gambit, in some ways. No big TV name in the news arena has successfully jumped to the Web, with the fascinating exception of former Fox News cable TV host Glenn Beck. His variety of independent effort, which he calls a “fusion of entertainment and enlightenment,” is a clear financial and audience hit. That’s largely due to Beck’s rabid fan base that pays a subscription fee for some content.

Couric is certainly a big name for Yahoo to land, and the company will surely aim both money and Web traffic at her in an effort to succeed. She is also a charming ringer to trot out to advertisers, of course.

Couric has done less-prominent appearances for Yahoo, including in New York at the NewFront ad event, and there is an offering called “Katie’s Take” on Yahoo News, basically repurposed content from her ABC daytime talk show, “Katie.”

The new deal is obviously much more substantive and I am certain that Mayer will bell-and-whistle its debut to within an inch of its life (call me, Katie, if you need any tips about the sitch inside your almost new home).

Since Couric left her job as well-known news anchor at CBS and, previously, as longtime star of NBC’s “Today Show,” she has been host of “Katie.” It debuted its second season in the fall.

Strengthening its online video efforts has been a recent key focus for Mayer in reviving Yahoo’s fortunes, along with mobile. Yahoo already tried unsuccessfully to buy France’s Dailymotion, and has since been mulling other major acquisitions in the space.

Yahoo has also struck a pricey deal for the longtime video archives of “Saturday Night Live,” but that money is much harder to recoup — perhaps impossible — compared to a show Yahoo owns outright that catches on.

Video ads are a big area of revenue growth online as traditional graphical ads fade. Yahoo itself has seen a sharp falloff of those key moneymaking ads under Mayer’s regime, part of a larger trend impacting everyone.

Mayer has waded into the arena herself (like I said, she’s a hey-look-at-me CEO) in an unusual — but highly entertaining — video presentation of Yahoo’s second-quarter earnings that was formulated in news-broadcast style.

“We think there’s room for lots of players and video really comes down to the question of the content,” Mayer said on the first of those calls.

She has even tried out interviewing herself, questioning “Hunger Games” star Jennifer Lawrence at a company event recently. While it was certainly a game effort, let’s just say she’s no Katie Couric.

What is entirely clear is that Mayer does seem to like the limelight herself — a source of increasing criticism, although in this she is not unlike a boatload of other ego-driven CEOs in tech — and those who are in it.

Hence, Couric and, presumably, others.

In the midst of all this Mayer deal-making, Yahoo is still without a media chief, since the departure of Mickie Rosen this summer; it also recently lost its video head, Erin McPherson. Internal sources said Mayer has said she is aiming to hire top television execs for the jobs, to underscore the company’s commitment to video.

That job is now being done by COO Henrique De Castro, although sources within Yahoo said that marketing chief Kathy Savitt has been pushing internally to take over some parts of that arena, too. (Now, that would be a reality TV show I would like to see on Yahoo!)

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