By: Chandler Copenheaver, Communications/Digital Strategy Committee Member
When Stephen Colbert took the stage of the legendary Ed Sullivan Theater September 8th as the new host of CBS’s The Late Show, many pegged him as the host to revolutionize the late night talk show format. He was to fill the shoes of David Letterman, whose average viewer was around 58-years old, and go head to head with the likes of Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel for the coveted 18-34 age demographic. With Nielsen Social reporting that The Late Show had garnered the highest amount of social media impressions on Twitter out of all the late night talk shows at 24 million impressions, it’s safe to say Colbert has been setup to achieve those expectations in the future.
To understand how Colbert achieved 24 million social media impressions requires some context. Prior to the airing of the show, CBS launched accounts for The Late Show on almost every social media platform under the sun to rebrand its image, which struggled on social media due to the age of the show’s viewership under David Letterman. The show most notably struggled on YouTube, with its channel having never passed 216,000 subscribers – a stat made even more staggering when compared to the YouTube channel of CBS’s Late Late Show with James Corden, which had already surpassed it in subscribers during the two months it began airing prior to Letterman’s leave.
Fallon and Kimmel have made their own mark on YouTube where the majority of their 18-34 demographic interact with the show. With each holding 8.3 million and 6.4 million YouTube subscribers respectively (and what seems to be the almost impossible-to-avoid Fallon viral videos of lip-sync battles and old-school TV reunion sketches), Colbert was faced with penetrating a platform that has been saturated with content for quite some time.
Colbert approached the issue with bold ideas such as hosting a public access show unannounced in Monroe, Michigan, a sardonic reaction to the nation-wide legalization of gay marriage in the style of his signature character from The Colbert Report and an informal as well as comedic science lesson on Pluto with astro-physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson after the release of the first photos of Pluto. These videos remain among the most viewed of Colbert’s videos on his channel, mixed in with others that exemplify the niche Colbert’s show has done well with on YouTube: fantastic guest interviews. Ranging from comedic story telling with Amy Schumer and Jake Gyllenhaal to policy discussion with GOP and Democratic presidential candidates that put the CNN debates to shame, Colbert has found treating his audience to something smart and uncommon for the late night formula is what the late night talk show bubble has been missing.
Colbert has also embraced many other forms of social media promotional tools in unique ways outside of YouTube. Colbert gained attention feuding with GOP Presidential candidate Jeb Bush about his campaign slogan “Jeb!” over Twitter, helping to organize the 2015 Global Citizen Festival in New York, and cross-promoting as the new voice of the traffic mobile app Waze. He even conducted a podcast leading up to the show giving a behind-the-scenes look at how The Late Show prepared to go on air.
Even with this strong social media promotion in place, Colbert will need to continue to generate hype as his show has so far to go if he is to stay a contender in the late night TV war. His debut week saw him winning the No.1 spot in ratings over Fallon’s Tonight Show, only for Fallon to reclaim the position the following week. In an interview with Howard Stern, Colbert expressed he has no interest in competing with Fallon for viewers. But, as more of the 18-34 age group moves away from television to newer media platforms, it will be interesting to see if Colbert’s avant-garde promotional tactics can keep him being as relevant and widely discussed in the coming months.
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