One week ago, David Letterman announced he would be retiring as host of CBS’s Late Show. Yesterday CBS put the speculation on his replacement to rest with the news that Stephen Colbert (current host of The Colbert Report on Comedy Central) will be the new host of the Late Show when Letterman departs in 2015. While the exact departure date for Letterman has not been set, Comedy Central has already decided The Colbert Report will end its run at the end of 2014. The burning question everyone has been asking since the news broke has been answered by CBS: Colbert will drop his “conservative” character when he moves to the Late Show.
This move reflects an overall shift in the late night daypart, which seems to be both a cyclical changing of the guard and an effort to keep younger viewers tuned in. Just one month after taking over The Tonight Show, Jimmy Fallon has lowered the show’s median age by six years (52 versus 58).Prior to Fallon taking over, Jimmy Kimmel had been the youngest of the 11:30pm Broadcast programs with a median age of 54. The shift to a personality like Stephen Colbert should help keep CBS competitive with the younger set.
In the age of digital extensions and the importance of social media, CBS needs someone like Stephen Colbert who can be directly competitive with both Fallon and Kimmel. In terms of full episodes, Colbert Report generates more total streams and time spent than Fallon and Kimmel combined. However, the broadcast hosts have the advantage when it comes to short clips, with The Tonight Show’s YouTube channel generating about three million subscribers and Kimmel’s just over four million. Comedy Central’s entire channel has just under three million in total.
There has no announcement yet on whether Craig Ferguson will continue as host of the Late Late Show following Colbert, or what will replace The Colbert Report on Comedy Central. Former Daily Show correspondent John Oliver had been considered the heir apparent in C0medy Central late night, but he has since moved over to HBO. As the press noted during the week of speculation leading up to CBS’s announcement, two late night staples—Conan O’Brien and Chelsea Handler—will become available in the near future, as their contracts expire in 2014 and 2015, respectively. For now, we can expect more rumors to fly.
Impact on TV Viewing
We expect this transition to be very similar to the shift that just occurred at NBC. While the first week will show growth due to increased interest, once the initial sampling stops the show will settle back to its normal levels. We expect to see a slight shift in the median age, again similar to what occurred at NBC.