With the 2022 midterm elections kicking off and what is sure to be a heated presidential election cycle on the horizon, star journalists are in high demand. But while TV presenters and correspondents have seen their profile (and pay) rise for decades, the past few years in particular have accelerated that change.
“Over the past five years, news talents have become stars in their own right,” says UTA Co-Chair Jay Sures, citing his agency’s clients: “People like Don Lemon, David Muir, Anderson Cooper, Bret Baier, Jake Tapper, Norah O’Donnell. They are stars. They are street stars. And as a result, they are compensated commensurate with what they bring to their respective employers, which is a real reliable source of information – people like to watch them for different reasons.
These high-profile anchors can now reasonably expect deals that total eight figures per year, especially if they include other projects like podcasts or development deals. And with a new election cycle approaching, these journalism stars are looking for ways to ensure they’re part of the conversation and remain top of mind for news junkies and casual viewers, whether they’re paying or no for cable tv. It helps that news is among the only shows that consistently succeed on linear TV, even as consumer viewing habits (not to mention corporate business models) have shifted to on-demand streaming.
“There’s a reason why ABC world news tonight With David Muir is the most-watched TV show outside of sports,” says WME partner Bradley Singer. “That says a lot about viewer behavior and the value of television news.”
The crowded media landscape of 2022 is very different from what it was in the 1980s and early 1990s, when a seat behind a morning or evening network antenna desk was a reporter’s only real hope. for a million dollar salary.
But it was the rise of cable news – notably CNN during the Gulf War and Fox News after 9/11 – that greatly expanded the landscape of anchors and their agents, who adeptly acknowledged that A-list anchors could revolve around a news broadcast. just as effectively as an A-list star could topple a series of declining networks.
It is this media universe that has helped transform companies like NS Bienstock, run by Richard Leibner and Carole Cooper, into powerful news and information agencies. UTA acquired Bienstock in 2014, which, like THR noted at the time, instantly gave the agency “leading market share” in the broadcast news business.
With the rise of streaming video, the emergence of podcasting as a viable business, the explosive growth of digital media and, in Sures’ words, an “insatiable desire for fresh content”, the past eight years have perhaps seen as many changes in the new business as the previous 80s.
“The past few years have shown that the only thing that’s constant is change,” says CAA officer Rachel Adler.
So while Edward R. Murrow, Barbara Walters and Dan Rather paved the way for today’s journalists not only in fame but also in fortune, the opportunities today are far greater than they were. weren’t at the time.
“Being a journalist right now, being a broadcaster right now, doesn’t mean you have to have a TV deal,” Singer says. “That means you can do streaming news, you can do podcasting. Maybe you’re a broadcast network correspondent, maybe you’re on cable, maybe you do stuff for Netflix.
Among superstar journalists and animators, that increasingly means production deals. Robin Roberts, George Stephanopoulos, Jenna Bush Hager, Rachel Maddow, Sunny Hostin — have all signed deals to produce specials, documentaries, podcasts, and other fare for their parent companies.
Maddow, MSNBC’s most-watched host, is going from hosting five nights a week to one night a week so she can work on outside projects, including a scripted film directed by Ben Stiller based on his book and his podcast Men’s Bag. (WME brokered the mega-deal last year.) “They like it because it’s entrepreneurial and it gives them another outlet, but it’s also good business,” Singer says. “If you’re paying these people a lot of money to be stars in your company, why not have them produce other types of content?”
But the opportunities are wider than that. Consider Rebecca Jarvis, ABC News business, technology and economics correspondent: Addressing an intimate room filled with top Disney announcers on April 25, Jarvis recalled a story that has stuck with her over the years, since she featured a profile on an up-and-coming Silicon Valley genius: Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos.
Jarvis never covered this ground, but years later the interaction led her to host the award-winning podcast produced by ABC News. The stall, which in turn was adapted as a limited series for Hulu, with Jarvis serving as producer. “She had to fight [skeptics at ABC] obtain The stall Finished; it took off like wildfire and we sold to Fox Searchlight and Hulu in a bidding war,” Sures recalled.
But it’s also worth being opportunistic and willing to step away from traditional audiences, betting that there are consumers of information who haven’t been exposed to your work.
“There is a real creator economy in the news space,” says Adler.
She cites as an example Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham, who in the midst of the pandemic decided to start a podcast, Hope, Throughout history. “He has a ton of 18- to 35-year-olds listening to his podcast,” Adler says, noting that the demo is much younger than news consumers elsewhere. “Going to where the audience is” is a very good idea in any business. »
And that could explain the push towards streaming by all news agencies. While some might already be unhappy (RIP, CNN+), every TV news organization is investing in space and betting that while streaming won’t replace their linear offerings, it will at least bring new, younger consumers into their new ecosystem. Look no further than CBS’ O’Donnell, which hosts a revitalized version of Murrow’s person to person for the CBS News streaming service. Or a number of deals that incorporate both streaming and linear TV, like MSNBC’s recent deal with Biden administration veteran Symone Sanders, who will host shows on Peacock and on weekend programming. from MSNBC.
As networks seek to fill more hours than ever before (think NBC News Group, which offers the network’s news shows, MSNBC, CNBC, Noticias Telemundo, and now streaming services from all of their brands), agencies and officers are able to help news divisions fill those hours with their talent, both established and new.
But, crucially, there’s no expectation — at least not yet — that streaming will supplant network morning shows or prime-time cable news in the near or even medium term. “I think streaming is going to play a role in news, but I don’t think it’s going to play as big a role as everyone thinks,” says Sures, noting the difficulty of producing and delivering news in direct. programming via streaming platforms.
Still, that doesn’t mean the opportunities are lacking for aspiring top-tier journalists. While the “linear” path of starting with a small-market local TV station and working your way up until you sign a network contract isn’t dead yet, the options are more numerous than they appear. have ever been. “There are many other paths to the top, so to speak, and ways to differentiate that weren’t possible and weren’t helpful,” Singer says.
Podcasts, magazines, sub-stacks, TikTok accounts, and YouTube channels are all potential springboards for a networking gig, as is experience in other high-profile areas like politics, as in cases of New Yorkby Olivia Nuzzi (CAA) and The New York Times‘ The Daily podcast host Michael Barbaro (UTA).
Sures notes that the networks are focusing on greater diversity among their on-air talent, representing people and areas of the country that in the past might have been excluded or underrepresented. “Not everyone needs to be on the East Coast, not everyone needs to be in an office, not everyone needs to be employed by a mainstream media company “says Adler. Still, there are some guidelines.
“[You have to have] screen presence, you have to be smart, you have to have a point of view, and people want to watch you,” Sures says. When these talents emerge, whether on a social media app or on a South Carolina NBC affiliate’s 11 p.m. newscast, or even off-screen in a subscription newsletter, you can be sure there will be no shortage of agents and agencies looking to offer them a show in the ever-expanding universe of television news.
This story first appeared in the May 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.