ABC's “Good Morning America” is counting on NFL-star-turned-broadcaster Michael Strahan to tackle the ratings challenges facing the morning program.
ABC News announced Tuesday that Strahan is leaving Disney/ABC Domestic Television's syndicated talk show “Live With Kelly and Michael” to join “GMA” full time this fall, joining co-anchors George Stephanopoulos, Robin Roberts and Lara Spencer.
“GMA” needs help. Although it's still the most watched network morning show, over the last year its ratings have fallen behind NBC's “Today” among the 25-to-54 age group that advertisers covet most when they buy time on TV news. In this year's first quarter, “GMA” ratings in the demographic fell 12% from a year earlier.
Only “CBS This Morning” has been gaining viewers among the network morning rivals. “GMA” is probably losing some viewers to that program as well as other morning entries on cable. Viewers are also turning more to their mobile devices for early morning news and information.
The amiable Strahan, 44, has been a contributor to “GMA” twice a week for the last two years. But with his contract up at “Live” this year, the network approached him to jump to the morning program. He will continue to appear as a host on “NFL Live” for Fox Sports' National Football League coverage on Sundays.
Shaking up one show to help another in the company is unusual. But Disney/ABC Television Group President Ben Sherwood, who oversees the company's network and syndication arm, is highly attuned to the value of “GMA.”In announcing the move to ABC News staff, the division's president, James Goldston, said: “Michael has been a stellar addition to the broadcast. Over the past two years on ‘GMA,' he's proven to be a tireless and versatile broadcaster with an incredible ability to connect with people, from veterans to American pop culture icons and newsmakers.”
Under his tenure as president of ABC News, “GMA” ended the 16-year ratings dominance of NBC's “Today” in 2012. “GMA” still generates a huge amount of revenue for ABC — well over $300 million a year by some industry estimates — and accounts for much of the profitability of ABC News.
“Live,” which has handled past changes in the host chair with minimal impact on its ratings, generates around $80 million a year in licensing fees and advertising revenue. Nevertheless, Bill Carroll, senior vice president at Katz Television Group, which advises TV stations on syndicated programming, described the move as “a big surprise.”
“They had to make a change,” said one TV news producer familiar with the discussions regarding Strahan who was not authorized to comment. “Michael's great personality brings in a lot of people, especially men. The network morning shows have given away large sections of the audience to ESPN, the financial networks and cable news. This is a good way to bring back some of them.”
Strahan, who transitioned into TV after a hall of fame career as a defensive end for the New York Giants, became Kelly Ripa's co-host in 2012 after longtime “Live” host Regis Philbin left the program. The program is the second most-watched syndicated daytime talk show.
Disney/ABC does not have a replacement lined up for Strahan, but “Live” will take its time to find the right match for Ripa. After Philbin left the program in November 2011, Ripa appeared with guest co-hosts for months. Over that time, its ratings increased.
Carroll said replacing Strahan won't be easy, but “Live” executive producer Michael Gelman has a strong track record in host transitions.
“Michael Strahan brought an energy and new audience to the show,” Carroll said. “He will be hard to replace with no natural successor.”