There's recently been a giant shakeup in late night. Since 2013, only Jimmy Kimmel on ABC has kept his time slot. Other than that, we've seen the retirements of Jay Leno's Tonight Show, David Letterman's Late Show, and Craig Ferguson's Late Late Show. On NBC, Longtime Saturday Night Live cast member and Head Writer Seth Meyers took over Late Night while fellow alum Jimmy Fallon shifted up to the coveted Tonight Show. CBS has a brand new lineup in The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (of The Colbert Report) and The Late Late Show with James Corden. By now, it's become clear that Fallon has taken the title as King of Late Night, with a tight race between Kimmel and Colbert in 2nd place in the 11:30 hour, with the former usually coming out ahead. Late Night with Seth Meyers is also extremely successful for a 12:30 show, while The Late Late Show with James Corden lags behind. But do the live ratings really tell it all?
Late Night ratings from mid June
Television is still a business where the networks make money in part by the selling of advertising spots to advertisers. Per SOAD Netcosts (and presented by Ad Week), a spot on Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show costs around $50,000, with The Late Show lagging behind at $29,400 and Jimmy Kimmel Live at $20,200. Regardless of what the current price is, all three shows' ad rates have increased from the beginning of 2014 to the end of 2015, with then-untested Fallon's rates rising the most (from $28,000). They did not present data for the 12:35 shows, but it can be assumed that they are lower than their 11:35 lead-ins.
Late night ratings in general are very stable. Unless there is a competition or time slot shake-up, the live ratings are not about to change. However, in an era where a lot of content is discovered online at a later date, there is more to the popularity of these hosts than seen on the surface level that are live ratings. Let's take a look now at the individual hosts' online presence.
What is striking to me about the chart above is how far ahead The Late Late Show is from both its lead-in and its competition in YouTube subscribers, when as shown in the chart before this one the show gets less live viewers. Simply put, James Corden knows how to make a video go viral, in particular his successful Carpool Karaoke series. Stephen Colbert's Late Show and Seth Meyers' Late Night have by and large failed to generate online viral videos so far. Also worth pointing out is that both Colbert and Meyers heavily rely on political jokes and interviews for their shows, while the other three shows can be seen more as variety shows; therefore, they are naturally supposed to be creating more viral content. Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show is easily the King of YouTube, with viral segments ranging from Lip Sync Battle to random games played with his celebrity guests. Meanwhile, Jimmy Kimmel's show was the only one that started before YouTube (never mind the corporate nature of YouTube today), but he's been able to adapt well to the new age with segments like Celebrities Read Mean Tweets, Lie Witness News, and Unnecessary Censorship. Fallon, Kimmel, and Corden are all separated from each other by a wide margin in terms of YouTube subscribers, but it's easily agreeable that these are the three creating the viral content, regardless of their live time slot. Let's take a closer look at the top 5 videos from Fallon, Kimmel, and Corden, starting with Fallon.
As is seen in the chart above, there are a variety of different segments that make up The Tonight Show's most popular videos; namely Lip Sync Battle and Wheel of Musical Impressions. Another interesting trend: all 5 of these videos involve singing, four of which are either celebrities pretending to sing a song, or singers trying to sound like other singers. Clearly, this is Jimmy Fallon's sweet spot; the question is how long it will last, and if viewers will get sick of Lip Sync Battle now that it's a weekly series on cable. Now let's look at Kimmel's top videos:
As is seen, there is even more variety here than there is in the top videos created by Jimmy Fallon and The Tonight Show, though Celebrities Read Mean Tweets as a whole is Jimmy Kimmel's most popular segment. In terms of actual numbers, Kimmel's top videos don't trail Fallon's by all that much, but even then, 56 million viewers is 56 million viewers. Pretty impressive for a show that gets 3-4 million viewers live. And to think; just 10 years ago only a small fraction of people would have been able to watch that Halloween Candy video, whereas today, it can be seen around the world at whatever time the viewer pleases. Which is something that is even more of a blessing for our final exhibit in the top 5 videos produced by James Corden's Late Late Show.
Despite coming on TV at around 12:35 A.M., James Corden can brag that he has the two most-viewed videos in YouTube history. In that aspect, he's doing miles better than his predecessor, his lead-in, and his competition. Though there is a potential long-term problem: all of these videos are Carpool Karaoke. Their the show's claim to fame, with only a few other videos standing in the way of all the Carpool Karaoke videos being his most-viewed ones. Right now, demand for the segment is high and A-list talent is agreeing to take part, but now that the segment looks to be pretty much weekly, there's a risk for overexposure. If people move on from the mega-hit segment, what happens next? James Corden right now is like a network that has one big hit keeping it afloat, but take it away and you really start to see how the rest of the network is struggling. But for now? Not bad at all.
As mentioned above, Stephen Colbert's Late Show and Seth Meyers' Late Night both are more concerned with keeping their shows more or less in the talk show format than the variety format and the constant need to create viral videos. Both shows largely still live in the live TV era, which is perfectly fine, though there are still plenty of videos from them that see a good number of views. Late Night's "Seth Brings Jon Snow to a Dinner Party" sketch did well for the show, bringing in over 11 million views; though, if you look at the charts above, that's nowhere close to the top videos in all of late night, and only a tenth of the top video's view from his time slot competitor. Three of Meyers' other top five videos are from an interview with Jennifer Lawrence.
For The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Donald Trump is the big draw. A sketch where Colbert moderated an "All-Trump Debate" saw over 7 million views, his highest-viewed video. Once again, great if you look at the show's live numbers, not so great if you look at the top video from his competitors. But remember, Colbert took more of the talk show approach, so we're really comparing apples and oranges unless we're comparing him solely to Meyers; in which he still loses. A potential new top video comes from his video called "This Diagram Explains Trump's Response to Orlando", which managed well over 6 million views in just a week. Interviewing Donald Trump several months back also didn't hurt his online viewing figures.
So right now, we're really looking at two late-night wars: one with the three variety shows, and one with the two talk shows. Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show is easily ahead, as he manages to create viral content on top of stellar live ratings, while Jimmy Kimmel is doing so too to a slightly lesser extent, and James Corden is riding Carpool Karaoke all the way to the bank. On the talk show realm, I would give both shows more time to figure themselves out, though right now the edge would have to go to Seth Meyers, whose online presence is more than Colbert's, and also didn't get the post-Super Bowl time slot unlike Colbert did. It's an everlasting battle to see who can reign supreme in the 11:30 to 1:30 window, but regardless of the live ratings, thanks to the Internet us viewers are able to see clips we otherwise would have missed, and these shows are able to keep generating more of these wonderful clips because they know definitively what's working now that they can see viewership for each and every one of their clips.