Recently, we've seen two seismic television-industry stories shake the media ecosystem: Katie Couric's decision to take on a show that will appear on Yahoo! and Maria Bartiromo's move to the Fox Business Network and the Fox News Channel. Bartiromo was a fixture in most of her 20 years at CNBC. She is likely the most recognizable voice in business-television news.
Couric and Bartiromo are two of the most venerable people on television. Both are widely appreciated as smart, popular, resilient women.
They also possess ample charisma, but their recent acts raise the question: Does charisma still mean as much as it used to?
Charisma is hard to pin down — but you know it when you see it. In presidential politics, Barack Obama had it in 2008 and Ronald Reagan in 1980, for instance. It makes someone look like a winner. If you can flourish on TV, then you've got it, all right.
Anyone who knows the television biz understands right away that it is governed by one thing and one thing only: the ratings. Not only that, but to have a long career on the tube, someone has to attract the right kinds of ratings.
That is, the star must appeal to they coveted 18-to-34 year-old demographic, the group that makes Madison Avenue all but drool. These are the consumers who avidly buy fashion, retail, beverage, and home-entertainment items. They are very important to a company's fortunes.
Will Bartiromo bring them to Fox? Can Couric recruit them for Yahoo!? Bartiromo and Couric have been TV stars for so long that their audience might skew older than 18-to-34. CNBC's viewers are more mature (and, dare I say, well-heeled) than the younger set. Couric became a star back in the last century as a morning-television icon at NBC's Today show.
Both Fox and Yahoo! are saying that the charisma of these familiar faces has not dimmed — and that charisma still counts for plenty in building a brand. Both possess the kind of recognizable star power that intrigues viewers.
Success is a relative term in TV. Researchers can massage the ratings to make any show look like the greatest program since Seinfeld. And critics sometimes won't give an inch as they rip apart the data.
What will matter is whether the charisma of Katie Couric and Maria Bartiromo will be enough to raise the profiles of Fox and Yahoo!.
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