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.