CBS’ Eye Opener is drawing more eyes to morning show

Stephen Battaglio
Los Angeles Times

“CBS This Morning” is the only network TV morning show gaining viewers lately and anchor Charlie Rose hears a lot of anecdotal evidence about what’s getting them into the tent.

“People come up to me on the street and tell me ‘I love the Eye Opener,’ ” Rose told the Times in a recent interview. “They say ‘I set my clock to it.’ ”

Every morning Rose introduces the rapid-fire video montage that opens the program with the words, “Your world in 90 seconds.” Using news video and sound bites from CBS and other sources, including a sprinkling of one-liners from late-night comics, the Eye Opener has become CTM’s visual trademark.

“It’s a perfect kernel of energized, bite-sized information and imagery that kick-starts the hour while clearly branding CBS as the network where news lives in the morning,” said former CNN president Jonathan Klein. “It’s kind of the news equivalent of Jimmy Fallon’s ‘Hashtags’ or ‘Thank You Notes.’ ”

CBS News would surely be thrilled if the Eye Opener could attain the same kind of viral video cachet as Fallon’s “Tonight” show bits. To help that effort, it’s making the segment available in an email newsletter. Starting this week, viewers can sign up on the “CBS This Morning” website to receive the Eye Opener for viewing — and sharing — on their computer or mobile device after the broadcast.

The digital distribution aims at spreading the word about “CBS This Morning,” which is seeing some payoff from positioning itself as a more news-driven alternative to its breezier competitors, ABC’s “Good Morning America” and NBC’s “Today.”

In February, Rose and co-anchors Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell gave CBS its best morning ratings in 22 years with an average of 3.94 million viewers. The program still trails ABC’s “Good Morning America” (5.07 million viewers in February) and NBC’s “Today” (4.9 million). But the CBS audience has grown by 1.54 million viewers since its Jan. 2012 launch.

Much of the increase comes from older viewers who prefer a more serious approach in the morning. But “CTM” — which commands about a quarter of the $1 billion-plus in annual ad spending on network morning TV — has become more competitive among women aged 25 to 54, a coveted audience for advertisers that buy news programming. The program gained 10 percent in that demographic during February, while “GMA” was down 14 percent and “Today” declined by 9 percent.

While Licht hopes that the digital version of the Eye Opener will become a gateway to introduce more viewers to the program, the segment is already a moneymaker. Toyota has a multiyear deal to be the exclusive sponsor of the 7 a.m. Eye Opener. The multimillion-dollar package led to the creation of an 8 a.m. version, which has short-term sponsorships.

The Eye Opener is the work of five CTM staffers who hunker down in the CBS Broadcast Center in Manhattan at around 7 p.m. to scan through hours of video ingested during the day and through the night. The final edited product, which covers over a dozen stories with more than 100 images, is completed moments before it goes on the air. The segment is updated for an 8 a.m. version and again for the “CTM” feed for the West Coast.

“It’s a very intense in the room where they put it together,” said Licht. “It’s one of the few places I don’t go into very lightly.”

The Eye Opener — a name created by a CBS News intern — was the first element conceived for the network’s morning revamp after he came over from MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

“We had not yet decided who the hosts were going to be,” he said. “We just knew we had to do something different to open the show that immediately told viewers that we’re not the same as the other morning broadcasts.”

The fast-moving segment has even attracted an audience that doesn’t typically watch TV news. Licht has been told that teachers are showing the Eye Opener to their students to engage them in current affairs.

“It’s a pretty brilliant alternative to flipping through the paper before running out the door,” said Lisa McRee, a veteran Los Angeles TV news anchor and a “CTM” fan. “Even my teenagers watch it.”