Tuesday, March 05, 2002


The contract negotiations continue today with Nightline Anchorman Ted Koppel's polite response to Disney management, conveniently published by the op-ed page of The New York Times. Koppel reportedly has two years remaining on his contract, so with $20 million in play (Koppel's annual salary is $10 million), he chose his words very carefully.

It's important (from Koppel's point of view) that $10 million annually be the starting point when the negotiations with the cable news networks begin. The obvious landing zone for Koppel is CNN, which has a global news team and like-minded management in Walter Isaacson. And Koppel would be a huge catch for CNN, since Nightline has a very strong constituency (especially in cable news ratings terms) and real brand value.

But I'm reasonably certain his agent is saying: "let's talk to everyone." From Roger Ailes's point of view, Koppel offers both risks and rewards. From NBC/MSNBC's point of view, Koppel makes all kinds of sense if one assumes that a package of both cable and broadcast can be pieced together that meets Koppel's ego needs (Koppel has the traditional broadcaster's disdain for cable news). The perfect fit, actually, would be the BBC. But they have almost no distribution in the US and it's unlikely, to say the very least, that Koppel would be interested in appearing on a network which few in the US watched.

Two things killed Nightline; time-shifting and demographics. Time-shifting was enabled by the cable news networks and the Internet; we could get news at our convenience, any hour of the day or night. But the demographic shift was the killer. Sometime in 1999, the size of the echo-boom generation exceeded the size of the baby-boom generation. All those children born relatively late in the lives of their parents created a much earlier-to-rise, earlier-to-bed routine.

Back in my NBC Election Unit days, I attended a "retirement" party for David Brinkley. That's what they called it, even though Brinkley had signed on with ABC News. Shortly thereafter, Roone Arledge created a nearly perfect vehicle for Mr. Brinkley, who went on to enjoy great success for many years on ABC's Sunday morning broadcast "This Week." One hopes Mr. Koppel has similar luck. I'm not keen on his politics, but he has produced high quality work over a long period of time. And the more of that the better.