Live from Your Computer: It’s Late Night

Let’s get this out there straight away: I’m no Carnac the Magnificent, but I’ll take a swing for the fences on this.

I think it’s safe to say that digital video will be around for some time. And it’s clear that social video sites are not only cutting into the culture of television, but also redefining how TV is watched for the digital generation. In the realm of late night television, there are absolutely pros and cons. Greater saturation on content, but non-centralized so the return on the investment may not be completely measurable. It also may be the missing ace-in-the-deck between the “new” Conan audience and the more established Letterman/Leno crowds.

The overlap comes down to where the “purchaser” demographics are, and mainstream media still banks on the sweet spot of 18-49 year olds. In some instances, it really revolves around those younger users, but the question is where are they? Evidence shows they are online (see the embedded data from Pew’s 2008 study on video sharing):

pew 2008

Source: Lee Rainie, Video sharing websites, Pew Internet Study, January 2008

Sure, there was a 58 percent increase of views among older demographics between 2007 and 2008, it still doesn’t come anywhere close to the size of younger adults online watching video.

I'm With CocoMy idea? Let those users go and hit the key entertainment purchasers online. Conan and company have an opportunity to make Late Night television the battleground for the American Media Civil War between the traditional and digital generations.

If this younger, digitally savvy group is your invested audience – and given the #TeamConan trends, populous Facebook groups and “I’m With Coco” fan art flying around the Web, it certainly appears that way – embrace it. Partner with Viacom or Fox and produce a five-times weekly talk show that will be broadcast only online. Users could subscribe to it through iTunes, Hulu, or some third-party site similar to ColbertNation.com or TheDailyShow.com. The content would exist in a very sharable way, buoyed by the successful interstitial ad model already being utilized by these sites, but it still would be only broadcast on the online channel.

Most importantly: don’t discount the production and go all out. Make sure that the only thing that fundamentally changes is the delivery mechanism of content. Be adventurous with the content, but still, be true to the roots of it and the many writers involved with it. Conan would get more freedom to be zany because of the flexibility of the medium; his key audience will watch initially out of support and stay out of loyalty; and advertisers and booking agents will fight for seats because the system would provide the exact audience for which they may be looking. A group that is willing to commit to a Web video series of one zany guy is likely to be homogeneous at least around age, if not interest, socio-economic demos and more.

The sad story that isn’t getting discussed is the idea that ratings are truly an outdated measure, and so much of Conan’s true audience may have gone uncounted for these last seven months. The ratings have told the story that Letterman is trouncing Conan week after week (until the dust-up with Leno started), but we’ll never know how many people were really watching if we listen to ratings. A Web-only series would throw all of that convention out the window, while still finding an outlet for the entertainment industry to get to its key demo.

Is it risky? Absolutely. But could Conan redefine the evening talk show if it works? You bet. The life of one episode wouldn’t be the 11:35 hour – it’d be the mornings after, the early business day, or even further in time. There are many ways this chapter of media shuffling could go, but a great ending to the Late Night Kerfuffle of 2010 would have to involve the one guy caught in the middle changing all of media forever.

“I’m With Coco” art created by Mike Mitchell

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