By Liana B. Baker and Lisa Richwine
Sept 12 NBC's "Today" is revamping its show as
it tries to retake the ratings lead it held for decades, adding
"The Voice" host Carson Daly and a new set to lure back viewers
who defected last year to ABC's "Good Morning America."
"Today," which generates the bulk of the profits for NBC's
news division, is looking to recapture viewers it lost after
anchor Ann Curry left in June 2012. Earlier that spring, "Good
Morning America" snapped the show's 16-year winning streak atop
the morning ratings.
"We want to be very competitive in the morning wars," Matt
Lauer, the show's co-host, said on the new orange-hued set in
Rockefeller Center on Thursday from which he and fellow hosts
Savannah Guthrie and Al Roker will be seen starting Monday.
"Good Morning America" on Walt Disney Co's ABC leads
the ratings race in total viewers and among 25- to 54-year-olds,
the group advertisers target during the morning shows. "GMA"
averaged nearly 2 million viewers in that age group, about
86,000 more than "Today," according to Nielsen data from Sept.
24, 2012, through Sept. 1, 2013.
Third-place "CBS This Morning," which has steadily grown its
audience since it rebranded with a bent toward hard news in
January 2012, averaged 1 million in 25- to 54-year-olds.
Advertisers spent an estimated $515 million last year for
the 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. time slot, according to Kantar Media, and
it is among the more profitable parts of a network's schedule,
according to Jon Swallen, Kantar's chief research officer.
"Today's" share of that market has dropped to 50.1 percent
from 59.1 percent in 2010, according to Kantar's numbers.
"You used to be able to just buy 'Today' and maybe a little
CBS," said Aaron Cohen, chief media negotiator for Horizon
Media. The marketing and advertising firm buys morning show ads
for clients that include Geico, Capital One and Weight Watchers.
Cohen said "Today" is still valuable to advertisers because
it trails "Good Morning America" by a just tiny margin among
women 25 to 54, a key morning demographic.
Turning around the morning program has been a focus of
Comcast, which bought control of NBC Universal in 2011
and installed former Comcast Cable President Steve Burke as
chief executive of the TV and film unit. The company brought in
Patricia Fili-Krushel, an ally of Burke, to oversee business
operations of the news division, as well as cable channels MSNBC
The job of overhauling the show was given to Deborah
Turness, a former ITV executive in Britain who oversees the NBC
News division, including breaking news coverage at its bureaus
as well as shows including "NBC Nightly News with Brian
Williams," the "Today" show, "Meet the Press" and "Dateline."
"We are a news show. I'll say it again. We are a news
show," Turness told reporters. "We must be ambitious, we must be
enterprising," she said.
To rebuild the audience, Turness says the show will stress
exclusives and breaking news stories in a lineup that regularly
features cooking segments, outdoor concerts and wacky YouTube
She listed some recent "Today" exclusives, including an
interview with cooking show cost Paula Deen, who had been
involved in a scandal, an interview with the lawyer for
convicted national securities leaker Bradley Manning, who
revealed his client wanted a sex change, and interrogation tapes
with Ariel Castro, who was convicted of holding three women
hostage in a Cleveland home.
The hub of the show will be a new set, which features a desk
area for hosts that can rotate 360 degrees, state of the art
weather screens for Roker, bright orange couches, and Daly's new
digital set, which will allow him to chat with guests after they
appear on the main set.
The space is also designed for social media interaction with
guests, including live stream interviews, and real-time analysis
of social data and reactions from the web.
NBC did not say what it spent on the upgrades.
The news bent Turness intends to install at "Today" is a bid
to stop the advance of the "CBS This Morning," which is in third
place but has closed the gap since launching in January 2012.
Hosted by Charlie Rose, Gayle King and Norah O'Donnell, it has
positioned itself as a hard-news alternative to its two more
heavily viewed competitors.
"CBS This Morning" has averaged 2.8 million total viewers so
far this season, up 13 percent from a year earlier, but still
about 1.8 million behind the No. 2 "Today."
"NBC doesn't really think about CBS, but they might need to
in the future," said Brian Stelter, a New York Times reporter
and author of "Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of