News Biz Aims to Pay It Forward

2013 will be shaped by capitalizing on, or squandering, 2012 developments

From Good Morning America’s historic
ratings win to Ann Curry’s tearful onair
goodbye to the Today show and
the guessing game of who would succeed Jim
Walton at the helm of CNN, the news business
saw no shortage of 2012 headlines that will
have ripple effects into 2013.

A.M. Wake-Up Call

It only took ABC’s Good Morning America
about four months to solidify its first-place spot
in the morning-show ratings, but it’s going to
take NBC’s Today much longer to get it back.

NBC has work to do to bring back viewers
disenfranchised by the ouster of Curry. Newly
promoted Today executive producer Don Nash
said viewers should expect to see some cosmetic
changes to the show in 2013, as well as more
opportunities for the anchors to show off their
personalities and interact with each other, a formula
that has worked well for the GMA team.

But morning TV is all about habits, and habits
are hard to change. With Today seemingly
done making anchor changes and GMA expecting
to return a recovered Robin Roberts in mid-
2013, it’s unlikely the morning show pecking
order will look any different in six months.

The Zucker-ization of CNN

Though Jeff Zucker’s appointment to president
of CNN Worldwide has been mostly
praised by industry insiders, given
his track record as a wunderkind
producer at Today, all concede that
turning around the network is a tall
order for any executive, and one
that will take years.

While CNN’s problems are well
known—primetime ratings at a
20-year low, a moribund morning
show and a general lack of
direction—Zucker’s challenge will
be building a core pocket of fans
without radically changing CNN’s
journalistic brand.

For that, Zucker said, CNN
needs to “broaden the definition of
what news is.” It will experiment with that via
shows from Anthony Bourdain
and Morgan Spurlock in 2013,
though no one expects the channel
to go to all reality programming.
The most obvious first priorities
would seem to be a new
host to replace Anderson Cooper
at 8 p.m. or 10 p.m. (Ann Curry
is the juiciest rumored candidate)
and—given Zucker’s track record
in morning TV—Starting Point at
7 a.m.

A Non-Election Year

The presidential campaign drove both Fox
News and MSNBC to record ratings, and while
neither network should be worried about losing
its core viewership in the absence of an election,
the bigger issue will be which benefits more
from a second Obama term.

The early bet seems to be MSNBC, whose Rachel
Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell have consistently
beaten FNC’s Sean Hannity and Greta
Van Susteren in the adults 25-54 demo since
the election—a major win for MSNBC if it
holds through 2013.

CBS News also benefitted from the election
year, with the newly hour-long Face the Nation
now topping NBC’s longtime leader, Meet the
, though Face is still only rated on its first
half-hour. Once the hour receives full clearance
on CBS stations after basketball season ends this
spring, Face and MTP will vie for dominance on
a more level playing field.

Be Right, Not First

Last year saw several high-profile screw-ups
in TV news coverage. CNN and Fox News initially
misreported the Supreme Court’s ruling
on the Affordable Care Act; ABC News incorrectly
linked Aurora shooting suspect James
Holmes to the Tea Party; and myriad reporters
across the board made mistakes in early Newtown,
Conn., shooting reports. Such missteps
can hurt the credibility of all news organizations,
even networks not directly involved.

Perhaps the best visualization of the desire
to “get it right”—and maintain credibility with
viewers—was Fox News’ Megyn Kelly taking
her famous walk to the decision desk on Election
Night at the behest of Karl Rove. Rove’s motivations
aside, TV news will need to be more
conscious of getting it right, not first, in 2013.

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