As Katie Couric's contract with CBS News nears its end, multiple syndicators are approaching her about daytime possibilities, confirm several sources.
Couric's $15 million annual contract with CBS News expires at the end of May. It's still too soon for her to begin negotiating with CBS, but the news anchor has begun considering her options should renewing her contract with CBS not pan out. Couric, who was The Today Show's star for 15 years, has long been considered the ideal candidate for daytime talk due to her warm rapport with Today Show guests and her broad experience covering female-friendly topics.
"She could get in there and command a lot of money," says one syndication executive who spoke anonymously because they could be a potential bidder for a Couric show.
If Couric and her team can negotiate an attractive package at CBS News, that is probably where she would prefer to stay, say sources. But if syndicators can devise an even more appealing deal - that would likely include Couric creating her own production company and multi-platform offerings -- she could perhaps be convinced to make the switch.
If Couric wanted to make a move to daytime - which would not pay her as much as her current CBS News contract, but could pay as much as $5 million a year plus a piece of her show, estimate sources - 2012 would be a good time to do it.
By then, the impact of Oprah's departure will be clearer and stations will have more cash in a year that includes the Summer Olympics and a presidential election. Comcast also will have completed its acquisition of NBC, which could mean that the NBC-owned stations become more aggressive about acquiring daytime shows.
"Stations aren't going to decide to spend more money on programming because they have the revenue," says one syndicator. "They are going to spend more money because someone comes up with a show that forces them to spend more money. Katie Couric could be that show."
Couric is looking at all her options as she heads into 2011, says one person close to her. She's been enjoying her work on the CBS Evening News, particularly as she's headed out in the field more often and as she's grown more focused on social media. Couric is known to be a prolific Tweeter, and she also hosts an online interview series called @katiecouric, which is also her Twitter handle.
"Katie is very happy at CBS and proud of her award-winning team," says her spokesman, Matthew Hiltzik.
Fans are getting some chances to see Couric do something else besides the evening news. She recently appeared on Debmar-Mercury's Wendy Williams, and she's slated to appear in the post-Super Bowl episode of Fox's Glee, a show of which she is an unabashed fan.
It will take someone of Couric's caliber to convince TV stations to ante up significant cash for a new first-run show, say syndication sources.
While top-rated off-net programs are reaping record-breaking license fees from both TV stations and cable networks, first-run shows are experiencing more modest launches. None of this year's first-run entrants - CTD's Swift Justice with Nancy Grace, Sony's Nate Berkus and Twentieth's Don't Forget the Lyrics - have yet reached a 2.0 household ratings average.
Warner Bros. is currently selling Anderson, featuring CNN's Anderson Cooper, to TV stations for cash license fees in a one-year deal, but recently cash is more the exception than the rule. Most first-run shows in the past two years have gone to stations for just a little cash or on a barter-only basis.
Should Couric come to syndication, she would be expensive bet for stations, and that means stations would have to have high HUT (homes using television) time periods available for her. "No one can afford to do a show with Katie that isn't a 4 pm show," says Bill Carroll, vice president, programming, Katz Television Group Programming.
Whether those time periods will be available depends on how next fall's new shows perform in the Oprah slots. All eyes will be on Anderson, which has laid claim to the Oprah afternoon time periods in three markets. Other shows - particularly Warner Bros.' Ellen and Sony's Dr. Oz - are expected to benefit from Oprah's departure. And many stations are slating locally-produced programs or newscasts for the slots, which are unlikely to achieve Oprah's ratings success but can be produced for far less money.
"What works in Katie's favor is if Anderson Cooper succeeds," says Carroll. "If Anderson Cooper fails, then ... stations won't want to try another news person."
When it comes to trying news personalities in syndication, the cautionary tale remains Jane Pauley, the former Today Show host and Dateline anchor who launched an expensive talk show in 2004 that famously failed.
A CBS spokesperson declined to comment for this story.