Monday, 4 April 2016

Late Night Talk Shows and YouTube

The Late Late Show with James Corden scored a major coup with its 'Carpool Karaoke' sketch by having Paul McCartney as a guest in his hometown of Liverpool.  The YouTube video immediately attracted massive publicity, 10 million views in two days, showing that YouTube has become as important as actual TV viewers for late night talk shows.

This follows on the heels of Jimmy Fallon's Classroom Instruments version of the song Enter Sandman with Metallica that has garnered 10 million+ views.  Another recent one with magician David Blaine also has 10 million+ views, helping Fallon's YouTube channel gain over 6 BILLION views so far!

With the fragmented nature of television viewing these days, it wouldn't be a surprise if NBC is nostalgic for the glory days of Johnny Carson when the network dominated late night television. Carson ruled the airwaves after 11:30 pm for decades and also gave a significant boost to David Letterman who followed him at 12:30.

This occurred back in the days when there were three major  national networks along with the local affiliates.  NBC had very few competitors and those that did compete such as ABC's Nightline or Fox's Arsenio Hall didn't make much of significant dent in NBC's ratings.

When Johnny Carson retired in 1992, there was a huge controversy over his succession involving David Letterman and Jay Leno.  Letterman was the heir-apparent because he was already on NBC while Jay Leno was a frequent guest host on Carson's show as well as NBC's choice.  Eventually. Jay Leno did win the Tonight Show while David Letterman went to CBS and hosted his own late night show at 11:30.  

They both dominated the late night airwaves until just a couple of years ago when both men retired from last night TV, despite the fact that they were still at the top of their game.  What happened?

Television and the Internet

The traditional notion of people watching shows in front of their TV when the network airs them has been severely disrupted.  Viewers can PVR their favorite shows and watch them at a later date, fast-forwarding through the commercials.  They can binge watch a series on Netflix or they can catch a show online on their laptop or smartphone while they're commuting.

Late night talk shows have been affected also.  People don't watch an episode from 11:30 until 12:30 like they used to (let alone shows from 12:30 am onward).  These days, people will want to catch the highlights, whether it's the best jokes from the monologue or the skits that take place before the first guest comes on.  So, while viewers will watch entire episodes of a TV series, they might only watch bits and pieces of a late night talk show episode.  This holds especially true for the all-important millennial viewing audience.

Unfortunately neither Letterman nor Leno were able to adapt to these new circumstances, as they themselves acknowledged.  Like Carson with his skits such as the Carnac the Magnificient, Letterman also produced memorable routines such as Stupid Pet Tricks and Top 10 Lists which would have been viral online had the internet been prevalent in the 80's and 90's. Jay Leno relied on his famous joke-filled monologues for his laughs but that wasn't quite enough for NBC in the current digital age.

Enter Jimmy Fallon

Jimmy Fallon succeeded Jay Leno on the Tonight Show and brought his unique brand of comedy that went beyond the typical monologue and interview.   His YouTube channel now has 10.5 million+ subscribers and almost 5 billion views.  His most popular YouTube videos include his famous routines such as Lip Sync Battles and Wheel of Musical Impressions, skits that go instantly viral online as soon as they air.

Fallon dominates the late-night TV ratings over Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Colbert and his YouTube channel also has the most viewers by far, leading Jimmy Kimmel who has 3 billion viewers and Conan O'Brien with 2.2 billion.

Enter James Corden

James Corden hosts the Late Late Show on CBS at 12:30 am and might have fremained very unknown if he hadn't have gone extremely viral with his popular sketch Carpool Karaoke.  This basically consists of Corden driving around Los Angeles with musical guests such as Adele, Justin Bieber and One Direction.

It's a very simple concept and a very inspired idea.  Everyone, or mostly everyone, loves to sing when they're driving alone in a car or with a group of friends joining in.  Likewise, a celebrity guest who might not want to belt out a song when on the couch with a talk show host is a lot more willing when driving around in a car.  Carpool Karaoke became so popular that CBS even gave him a prime-time special in March showcasing his best carpool karaoke moments.

What does this show?  It shows the power of digital marketing and the huge influence of social media.  There is a segment of the audience (usually older) that will watch late night talk shows at 11:30 pm but the younger viewers will pick and choose the parts of the show that they want to watch, especially when it's viral.  YouTube has definitely become a major player in the late night television world, something Johnny Carson might never have envisioned in the good old days of watching TV in the bedroom!

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