Have you heard the one about a talk show host getting the boot after a 4th place network gambled with its programming and became a complete laughing stock when its experiment failed miserably?
I’m not reveling in NBC’s misery – I think the network will stay afloat just fine (as well as any broadcast network in the next few years), as will Leno, Conan and late night comedy. What’s interesting is how the online world is responding to the Tonight Show fiasco and the power of online communities to influence corporate strategy.
As of this writing, the Team Conan group on Facebook has over 170,000 members, Twitterers are rallying protests outside of 30 Rock in New York and Universal Studios in Burbank (from where TMZ is streaming live), and people are uploading videos and TwitPics. Revision3 is hoping Conan will join the Internet Television revolution, while the Tonight Show is self-deprecatingly selling itself on Craigslist. And when the Craigslist experiment went exceedingly well, several days later Conan decided to pimp himself under the casual encounters section. Awesome.
While Conan will likely walk away from NBC with $30 million in his pocket, a bright future on another network and his head held high for maintaining the sanctity of The Tonight Show, what will NBC executives learn from this experience? Will Leno take over the Tonight Show yet again, and how will the backlash from Conan’s fans impact ratings? According to the LA Times, Conan has lost 15% of the key 18-49 demographic that Leno held when he left. Sure, Conan’s brand of humor may not be as sanitized or accessible to mainstream viewers, which may account for part of the ratings dip (and the fact that NBC affiliates are losing ratings for local news…though that may have much more to do with online news consumption rather than late night comedy programming). However, it would be interesting to note how many viewers from the 15% watch Conan on Hulu or YouTube, especially since those viewers in that demographic are savvier online users. The fact that the Tonight Show reached out directly to Craigslist – a definitive online community – further supports how Conan’s fan base uses and interacts with online media. People are offering Conan jobs, their apartment, and education in exchange for the show. Where are Leno’s supporters? Certainly not as visible online. How will NBC executives – and media executives in general – deal with the movement of viewership online in terms of programming? As schedules become more and more obsolete, will “prime time” become an ancient relic? Will audience metrics evaluate rating based on viewership of entire shows, or will online single clip viewings become an integral part of ratings?
Frankly, I’m most worried about what will happen to Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. I would be happy to adopt him.