Colbert's Digital Smarts Will Likely Lead To Late-Night Kingship

When “Late Show With Stephen Colbert” premieres in September, expect a strong opening and sustained ratings success. I say that with confidence because Colbert and his cohorts have proved masterful practitioners of TV Everywhere. Indeed, a big part of why CBS gave Colbert the much-coveted gig to replace David Letterman is that he came with an enormous social media presence.  On Twitter alone, Colbert's @StephenAtHome has a staggering 8.1 million followers.

Since leaving the “Colbert Report” last December, the man who would be the next King of Late Night has built a solid digital base to keep his intelligent/funny brand of commentary and silliness on-screen.  Colbert's digital crew have been building on a mighty social media foundation. His official YouTube  channel for the “Late Show,” launched barely a month ago, has more than 50,000  subscribers. Videos on the channel have launched more than 4 million views.  Beyond posting videos every few days, Colbert has launched a podcast to keep in the public ear and provide insight into how he and his crew plan to make over the iconic “Late Show.”



For all the early innovation Colbert's predecessor David Letterman brought to after-dark talk, he never quite grokked how TV Everywhere has  fundamentally changed audience consumption habits.   Despite Letterman's comic brilliance, he failed to see what his digital native competitors  --  “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live”--  had practiced with great  success: TV, especially in the talk arena, is a multiplatform ecosystem where music performances  standout bloopers and soundbites are shared across platforms.  “People are just plucking your greatest hits, without having to sit through the rest of the show,” the 47-year-old Kimmel told The New York Times.  “There’s more focus on singles than on albums.”

Colbert's command of the digital landscape gives a solid foundation and a great set of programming and marketing tools to fuel “Late Show” success.  All of that would be for naught, however, if  he didn't have the creative voice to exploit those tools -- which he does in spades.  In addition, Colbert  is perfect counterprogramming to the two Jimmys.   Current ratings leader Fallon as well as Kimmel offer a take and talk that goes heavy on entertainment and mostly eschews anything verging on substance.  Sure, they might make fun of “The Donald” announcing a White House run, but political satire for the Jimmys is a bit player. As  the 40-year-old Fallon recently said on NPR:  “If I entertain people and make them forget their trouble for an hour, I've done my job.”

In contrast, Colbert, who made his bones on “The Daily Show,” is comfortable with both silly and substance.  His Comedy Central mentor and pal Jon Stewart did Colbert a big favor when Stewart recently announced his retirement.  Stewart's replacement, the 31-year-old Trevor Noah, is a relatively unknown quantity. “Daily Show” and “Colbert Report” devotees have been set free to sample other options. The “Late Show” will attract a valuable audience looking for both entertainment and skewering commentary on the news of the day.  The 51-year-old Colbert may not win with 18- to 34-year-olds, who buy a lot of Budweiser and iPhones.  But I bet he wins with an upscale public radio crowd that are easy to find in your local Audi and Volvo showrooms.

1 comment about "Colbert's Digital Smarts Will Likely Lead To Late-Night Kingship".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, June 25, 2015 at 11:17 a.m.

    It may not be as easy as it sounds to convert Colbert's fan club into frequent late night CBS viewers---which is what it takes to generate winning average minute ratings in that time slot. Watching once or twice a week isn't goung to cut it in the Nielsens and watching only portions of the telecasts will not help, either. Colbert needs to develop a loyal, frequent viewer base that produces the time spent audience tonnage that leads to rating dominance for a stripped show of this kind.

    We should also note that Colbert's lead-in will consist of late newscasts on the CBS station affiliates----which attract mostly middle-aged and older audiences. A lot of these people may simply tune out or switch to other channels at 11:35PM, leaving Colbert to capture most of his younger fans from other channels. I'm not saying that this can't be done----but it needs to be done on a nightly basis, not once in a while---and that may be a tall order.

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