In what could be considered a shocking move, Yahoo has hired beloved newswoman Katie Couric to head up its new slate of video news coverage. But in many ways, it's not as shocking as the one-bit summation suggests. It's no surprise that online programming is, in a very lofty way, "the future" and with Yahoo's continual place behind other media giants — even after the addition of Google's Marissa Mayer as C.E.O. back in 2012 — combining that future with a presence as trusted as Couric is a no-brainer. With this sort of leap, it's imperative that they go big or go home.
In the past couple of years, there have been leaps in online programming, both news-related and entertainment-based. HuffPost Live launched just under two years ago, and already it sees 2 million regular viewers through live streaming and on demand videos on HuffPost Live and through integration with other Huffington Post content. Just this August, HuffPost Live announced that it would be expanding to global coverage — albeit at the expense of its L.A. office. (This realm may be the future, but it's not going gangbusters just yet.)
On a similar note, NowThisNews, a video news service designed to focus on video content for mobile news consumers, had raised almost $15 million dollars by May 2013 to fund its venture into online-only video news.
Of course, news isn't the only industry making the leap. Entertainment's been making headway here for years. Netflix now has three wildly successful online-only series — Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, and Arrested Development's highly anticipated fourth season. Hulu has garnered bigger and bigger names for its web series (a phrase that, until recently, used to be something of a dirty name, synonymous with "out-of-work screenwriter" or "struggling comedian"), including Chris O'Dowd (Bridesmaids, Family Tree) in Moone Boy and Eva Longoria (Desperate Housewives) in a cartoon sitcom called Mother Up!. Even Amazon Streaming is in on the game with a series called Alpha House, starring John Goodman.
All of these ventures are in the beginning stages, but it's clear that when it's done right, traction follows. Viewers are clamoring for more Orange is the New Black and House of Cards, series which they can gobble up at their own pace an on their own schedules. HuffPost Live's biggest numbers come from on demand viewership, rather than live numbers. It doesn't a media scholar to see that people simply love getting content wherever they go and whenever they want.
In fact, it's this exact phenomenon that is spurring claims like "Television is dying." On Monday, Business Insider compiled a lengthy case against television's chances, pointing to the fact that in general, TV and even online viewership is declining and that mobile (smart phones and tablet) viewership is the only segment on the rise, citing Aug. 2013 numbers from eMarketer.
As it stands now, all signs point to online and mobile access as the future of video content. So what can Couric bring to this burgeoning segment of the media? She's got clout, influence, access, and most importantly, the ability to ease in viewers who've yet to adopt this new mode of news consumption. She could be the spoonful of sugar for older consumers who've not yet made the leap. As for content, Couric will still stick to many of her requisite news duties, including interviews, but she tells the Associated Press the project is "a work in progress" as, of course, any online video venture would have to be.
Still, Couric's experience and name aren't a guarantee that the venture will work. The hallmark of online viewership is that it's fickle and that the field of other available content is vast. In online video news, that field is smaller than say, the field of blogs and online magazines, but if Couric doesn't deliver, the people may come, but they won't stay.
All that's left to do now is wait and see what she and her team serve up. And if they manage to find their niche in the developing segment of media, they could just be the piece of Mayer's empire that brings Yahoo out of its webby doldrums.