On David Letterman’s farewell to CBS’s “Late Show” on Wednesday, the 33-year late-night veteran joked that he would devote the rest of his life to “social media.”
As late-night TV depends more and more on creating viral moments, David Letterman has said that that was one of the reasons he knew it was time to leave the “Late Show.”
The lack of ability to create viral videos is “a weakness of the show,” Letterman said in May’s Rolling Stone cover interview. “I hear about things going viral and I think, ‘How do you do that?’ I think I’m the blockage in the plumbing.”
Letterman wasn’t just being highly critical of himself. There are actual numbers to prove it.
Amobee Brand Intelligence — a company that provides marketing insight and measures real-time content consumption across the internet, social media, and mobile —
looked at digital consumption around all the late night hosts for a year starting April 2014 to April 2015.
The results confirmed that the changing landscape for late-night formats and viral video creation wasn’t moving in Letterman’s favour.
Despite a high level of awareness that the last year was Letterman’s swan song year, Fallon, Kimmel, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert all had more consumption than the departing CBS host. In fact, Letterman generated only 29% as much digital consumption as Fallon.
With less and less people watching late-night talk shows live, the shows have moved toward bits that can get shared online the next day.
Younger hosts are doing the literal song and dance to create viral moments, which isn’t Letterman’s style.
Amobee offers up the following example: When Letterman announced he would be leaving late-night in April 2014, he only generated 52% of the digital consumption Stewart’s decision to leave Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” received two months earlier.
“If you look around at the other people doing it and look at me, it’s almost like a pair of shoes you haven’t worn in a hundred years,” he told Rolling Stone. “‘Gee, I think we can probably get rid of these.’ I still enjoy what I’m doing, but I think what I’m doing is not what you want at 11:30 anymore.”
Letterman certainly had his own success with innovative sketches gone viral. We’ve all clicked on a video of Letterman’s “Stupid Pet Tricks” and “Top Ten Lists,” among other great segments. But, he’s probably right about not fitting the variety-show-like model late-night programs have moved toward.
With all that behind Letterman now, Colbert will have to step up to the viral video competition when he takes over the “Late Show” on Sept. 8.
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