When Jon Stewart took over hosting duties for The Daily Show in 1999, most Americans still accessed the Internet via dial-up services like America Online. Fast forward to his final show in 2015, and viewers from around the world shared video of his last on-air moments on Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat on devices from smartphones to iPads.
It’s wise for late-night shows to leverage social media as part of their overall content strategy. In today’s on-demand culture, many who would have stayed up past 10pm to catch a funny take on the day’s news are often in bed, figuring they’ll catch the best bits in the morning. With both Facebook and Twitter featuring trending links and stories, it’s common for many viewers to turn in early and let these algorithms surface the best bits when they wake.
As Trevor Noah takes the reigns on The Daily Show, the program has a renewed focus on social media as part of its overall strategy. This summer, Comedy Central named Baratunde Thurston as the head of digital content for the show. Thurston, who has ties to Boston and previously worked as director of digital for online satire giant The Onion, has hit the ground running. The Daily Show twitter handle was cracking wise during the September 16 GOP debate, keeping online engagement up, maintaining brand awareness among political junkies and allowing the show’s writers to sharpen their satirical knives. As the network prepared to relaunch the show yesterday, the handle shared behind-the-scenes content to build buzz around Noah’s debut.
Daily Show alumnus Stephen Colbert also recently took over a legacy late-night program. His Late Show had a strong social rollout, featuring videos of Colbert coping with the end of his unemployment and preparing to start his new job. He also made a cable access show in Monroe, Michigan go viral by interviewing rap star Eminem on an episode. It maintained Colbert’s subversive brand while driving interest in a late-night show hosted by Stephen Colbert the person, not Stephen Colbert the conservative character made famous by The Colbert Report.
While the initial viewing is for HBO subscribers only, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver’s scathing takedowns often make the rounds the next day on social media with the clips posted on Facebook. The show also offers up clever graphs and share-worthy quotes from the host. This gives Oliver viewers beyond HBO’s subscriber base—and may help the channel sell more HBO GO subscriptions.
Back in 2009, Mashable lauded NBC’s Jimmy Fallon for being an early adopter of social media among his late-night competitors. The Tonight Show continues to make the rounds on social media, with more of a musical focus—Fallon’s classroom instrument performances make great viral fodder, as do his lip-synch battles. Fallon’s clips tend to be more PG-rated than many other late-night hosts, which makes them highly shareable.
On the other side of the coin, Jimmy Kimmel Live goes viral by appealing to viewers’ dark sides. Since Halloween 2010, Kimmel has encouraged parents to tell their children they’ve eaten all their kids’ Halloween candy and to film the reaction. The resulting tears and fury from the little ones elicit uncomfortable laughs both when the show airs and the next morning as the link circulates on social media. Kimmel also regularly asks celebrities on his show and to read mean tweets about themselves.
As viewers continue to cut the cord, social media will play an even larger role in the content strategy for late-night comedians and satirists to reach the younger viewers they covet. And will the networks continue to give the content away on social media, or will viewers have to sit through a string of ads before the bit they want to see appears? Let us know what you think on Twitter.