Yahoo Signs H&R Block to Sponsor New Katie Couric Show

Marketer Will Run Branded Segments With New Docu-series

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A new Yahoo series starring Katie Couric, Yahoo's global news anchor, travels to towns like Buffalo that are rebuilding after the recession.
A new Yahoo series starring Katie Couric, Yahoo's global news anchor, travels to towns like Buffalo that are rebuilding after the recession.

Increasingly investors are scrutinizing seemingly everything Yahoo pays for, including its holiday parties. So considering the portal reportedly pays Katie Couric $10 million a year to serve as its global news anchor, it's maybe not surprising that Yahoo has stepped up its efforts to attract sponsors for her shows.

H&R Block has signed on to sponsor a new program hosted by Ms. Couric that Yahoo is announcing on Thursday. Yahoo previously signed deals with Bank of America's online stock-trading service Merrill Edge to sponsor Ms. Couric's explainer series "Now I Get It" and with Nissan to sponsor her interview series "World 3.0."

Called "Cities Rising: Rebuilding America," Ms. Couric's new documentary series features the former "Today" and "CBS Evening News" anchor traveling to towns including New Orleans, Houston, Buffalo and Oakland as residents seek to improve the local economy following the recession. The show's first episode is already available, and Yahoo plans to air new episodes every other week. Those episodes will run approximately 10 minutes long, according to a Yahoo spokeswoman, who declined to comment on how much money H&R Block is paying to sponsor the show.

Each of the show's six episodes will end with a branded segment produced by Yahoo and H&R Block that will raise people's awareness that it's tax season, although they won't overtly pitch viewers on H&R Block's services to file taxes. Ms. Couric will not appear in the branded clips, which will run for roughly 30 seconds, the spokeswoman said.

In the show's first episode, which runs 11 and a half minutes, an H&R Block logo appears at the 10:45 mark to introduce the branded segment. That ran for roughly 40 seconds, including the static logo's appearance, and explained when people should file their taxes and when they can expect to receive a tax refund. Aside from the opening logo, the segment featured no mention of H&R Block.

No brands other than H&R Block will be able to run ads against the show's episodes, though that wasn't initially the case. When Ad Age watched the program's first episode on Wednesday on Yahoo's site, a T-Mobile ad played before the episode. By Wednesday afternoon Yahoo had removed the ability for ads from brands other than H&R Block to appear, according to the Yahoo spokeswoman.

In addition to the branded segments, H&R Block will be running native ads on Yahoo's digital magazines. The company's so-called Splash ad units appear within the magazines' content feeds, take up the full width of viewers' screens and can display photos or videos from a brand. H&R Block will also be running standard banners and video ads on Yahoo's properties.

The deal with H&R Block appears to indicate that brands are still interested in Yahoo's video audience even as Yahoo has struggled to grow it. As of October 2015, the number of people in the U.S. checking out Yahoo's video service Screen had dropped by 41% year-over-year to 15.1 million, according to ComScore. Earlier this month Yahoo shut down Screen, shifting its video distribution strategy to its digital magazines, like Yahoo Food and Yahoo News, the latter being where Ms. Couric's videos can be found.

In addition to its struggle to build big video audiences, Yahoo has also had a hard time making money from its videos. While last spring the company signed Honda as the exclusive sponsor for "Community" -- the sitcom it picked up after NBC cancelled it in 2014 -- in October it took a $42 million writedown on its video business, primarily because Yahoo "couldn't see a way to make money over time" from its original shows like "Community," Yahoo CFO Ken Goldman said during the company's third-quarter earnings call.

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