The Future of Conan O’Brien’s Timeshifted Audience

As some people know (or at least those obsessed with ridiculous television know), Conan O’Brien hung up his cleats last night as the host of NBC’s Late Night to take a few months off before inheriting the Carson throne from Leno at the Tonight Show.

An interesting idea is being discussed (both online and offline) as to whether or not Conan will be able to get away with some of his – um, ‘sophomoric’ – repertoire.

It’s really interesting to think about the size and difference in an audience that is willing to stay up to 12:30 as opposed to only 11:30. I think it’s right, too, Conan will have to change his game. Luckily, he’s bringing E-Street drummer Max Weinberg to help fill in the void, but there will be a big lift.

I’ll reserve judgment on the new Tonight Show until we actually see what Conan as on June 1st. The focus of this post is something completely different.

Except for college students and insomniacs, few people hang up to 12:30 to keep up on Conan’s antics. Never fear! Not only does Conan get a huge lift from NBC’s deal with Hulu (he’s also getting real estate on the home page during this last week), but I’d love to see the affect of timeshifting and DVR. Like the Daily Show and Colbert, Conan has probably gotten an overall boost from the “next morning” viewer.

But, with the relationships to Viacom or NBC, there has been some challenges about using YouTube to spread interest in this cast of motley fools. I took a lap this morning on YouTube…and many of the clips from Conan’s show have disappeared. There used to be an unbelievable amount of his stuff online. NBC and YouTube got into their mess a few years ago, and nearly every program and every clip they could get their hands on was removed. For some reason, many Conan clips missed the axe, including a library of one of my favorite gimmicks (the Walker Texas Ranger Lever).

I checked this morning again, writing this post, and it’s been reduced to one legitimate clip (and actually not even really a direct NBC clip):

At 11:30, Conan is definitely going to have a bigger TV audience. NBC certainly won’t give him the same creative leash – mainly because of how the audience will adapt. And it looks like he won’t have the same leniency on YouTube, either.

How will people discover the past joy that is Conan’s self-deprecating, almost self-scathing humor? Leno and Letterman moved to their posts after years in different positions, but the late night landscape was very different in 1993. Conan was a rookie, though, when he took on Late Night, as he so eloquently reminded everyone in his sign-off of the last show. Conan had to build a base, and as he became popular in the last five years, I’m sure that the timeshifted and YouTube audience is what made him the easy choice to follow in Leno’s shoes.

Who knows what the status of contracts, and Hulu, and Boxee, and YouTube, will be come June. Conan’s move will likely benefit from all three audiences: those who will come with him, the new demographic willing to stay up to 11:30, and those who still watch even if it is the next day. But how else will it grow?

As much as I care about the media impact of Conan’s move from an online media perspective, I also genuinely am interested in the waves he’s going to make in late night television history. I’m going to come with him, that’s for sure. I’ve became a fan of Conan growing up on the Simpsons reruns that I realized he was responsible for. He was really a writer during the best seasons and episodes of the show (say, the Monorail episode).

If not for anything, it’s because of his originality – and the fact that he’s proud of it. That’s something I can absolutely get behind.

“We’re going on to this next gig, and sometimes I read that ‘Conan needs to grow up because he’s moving to 11:30,’ and I assure you that that’s not going to happen. This is who I am, for better or worse. I don’t know how.”

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One Comment on “The Future of Conan O’Brien’s Timeshifted Audience”

  1. […] after Conan ended his stint on the Late Show last winter, I weighed in with some thoughts on what would happen to the audience he had gained in the era of DVR. It was his chance to take […]


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