When Katie Couric left mainstream broadcast media in 2013 for an anchor role at Yahoo!, fronting their new global news channel, press speculation and comment about the move spawned acres of fascinated newsprint coverage.
The decision of TV’s golden girl to abandon the traditional media which had made her a household name for the nebulous world of online was widely interpreted as a seismic moment, and Couric was pitched as the ultimate canary in a coal mine.
However, once Couric had migrated to her new online home, she quickly fell away from public consciousness as her new digital overlords failed to find a way to successfully capitalize on her erstwhile fame and maintain a public profile for her.
The situation got so bad, according to a comprehensive New York Post survey of Couric’s troubled tenure at the internet company, that, after having spent several years at Yahoo, people would still ask her, “Where are you working now?”
Earlier this month—nine months after resigning from the company—Couric summed up her four years at Yahoo on a Recode Decode podcast.
“I wouldn’t say it was an unhappy marriage, but it certainly was not fulfilling for me,’’ she said. “I had all this great content, I was getting big interviews—and it was sort of like a tree falling in the forest.”
Part of the problem, according the Post’s Oli Coleman, was that Couric was fighting for traffic with one hand tied behind her back, as Yahoo’s CEO, Marissa Mayer, had set up Yahoo News to be “a slave to an algorithm: If you read Kardashian stories, you’d be fed more pop culture; if you read Tom Brady stories, you’d get more NFL news.”
Unfortunately for Couric, the Yahoo algorithm bestowed no preferential status on Yahoo content. If Couric had assumed that at least regular Yahoo users—and there were of course millions of them at the service’s height—were automatically going to be seeing more of her, she was wrong, as users were much more likely to be pointed to non-Yahoo sites based on their browsing history.
There were occasional successes, such as her interview with actor Stephen Collins in December 2014, in which the actor admitted to sexually abusing underage girls, but the vast majority of Couric’s work was seen by a pitifully small audience, often numbering just a few tens of thousands, the Post claims.
Hardly the kind of figures Yahoo was paying—depending on which report you read—$5 million or $10 million a year for.
The execs became so worried that the ratings would spook advertisers that, the New York Post claims, “Yahoo eventually removed the publicly visible view-counters from its now-shuttered video platform, Yahoo Screen, just to save face.”
The Post says there was also conflict with Megan Liberman, the editor-in-chief of Yahoo news: “Some of the ‘serious journalists’ on Liberman’s team regarded Couric as a ‘TV person’ who did cooking segments and ‘got colonoscopies on TV.’”
However, the Post suggests Couric may have ultimately been worth at least some of the money Yahoo spent on her, not least because a great deal of the annual salary was in stock options.
Coleman reports that Couric was “hugely valuable” in helping the site to woo advertisers, even posing for “selfies with ad execs.”
But Couric left Yahoo in the summer of 2017 after the company merged with Verizon, and now works as a producer on various shows and has a successful podcast.