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CBS, Couric Discuss Pay Cut, Wider Role as CNN Waits

'CBS Evening News' anchor Katie Couric
"CBS Evening News" anchor Katie Couric. Photographer: Larry Busacca/Getty Images

CBS Corp. began preliminary talks on a new contract for Katie Couric, looking to cut the evening news anchor’s $15 million salary and possibly expand her role amid falling viewership, people with knowledge of the situation said.

The network and Alan Berger, Couric’s agent at Creative Artists Agency in Los Angeles, began talks in early December, said the people, who insisted on anonymity because the discussions are private. Time Warner Inc.’s CNN also has expressed interest in Couric, 53, two people said.

Both sides recognize Couric’s salary must be reduced for her to remain at CBS, one of the people said. This season, the “CBS Evening News With Katie Couric” is averaging 5.73 million viewers a night, according to Nielsen Co. data, behind NBC and ABC, and down 24 percent from when she took over in 2006.

“Katie is enjoying herself at CBS and is proud of her award-winning show,” said Matthew Hiltzik, her spokesman. Gil Schwartz, a CBS spokesman, declined to comment.

CBS and Couric haven’t addressed specific terms yet, one of the people said. The anchor’s contract provides a window when she can entertain offers from companies other than CBS, one of the people said.

One option for Couric would be to produce and host a show that New York-based CBS could syndicate, the person said. The anchor intends to continue her 40-minute online chats with guests that have included former Vice President Al Gore and pop-star Justin Bieber, said one of the people.

2006 Contract

Couric also expects to continue taking assignments for CBS’s “60 Minutes,” the person said.

In 2006, CBS signed Couric, a former host of NBC’s “Today Show,” to a five year-contract at $15 million a year that expires May 31. Given the pace of change in media, both sides said another five-year contract is unlikely, one person said.

During Couric’s four-plus years in the anchor chair, the audience for CBS’s nightly newscast has declined faster than at rival telecasts, according to Nielsen data. NBC’s newscast is averaging 8.59 million viewers a night in the current TV season, down 5 percent from four years ago, while second-place ABC is averaging 7.47 million, down 12 percent.

CBS, which leads the four major broadcast networks in prime-time ratings this season, gained 15 cents to $18.92 at 4:01 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares have gained 35 percent this year.

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