Conan vs. NBC: The Online Propaganda War Heats Up

Conan

Conan O'Brien addressed the "People of Earth" on Tuesday, saying he had no intention to support NBC's bid to move The Tonight Show into a later time slot and make him play leapfrog with Jay Leno. The move means that geek fans may lose the first late-night host to actively court their demographic using what are now mainstay internet features: quirky, non sequitur humor and low-fi graphics that YouTubers seem to love. Fittingly, techie loyalists are pushing an online petition, Team Conan Twitter feed, fan tribute tumblr, and anti-Leno video game. Let the Save Conan! propaganda war begin.

The best visual protests so far:

1. The "I'm with COCO" faux presidential campaign portrait.

2. The show-your-support printable Coco wig.

3. And the proletariat Jay Leno isn't funny search result.

As for the ratings? We should all admit that the sheer volume of butts on the couch doesn't matter anymore. David Letterman seemed to be beating the big red giant since his new show debuted seven months ago, but O'Brien's sense of humor was thought to have appealed to a coveted younger and more spendy demographic. It did. Problem is, that demo actually views the concept of watching television at a fixed time as obsolete. Thanks to competition from on-demand and Hulu and the best of O'Brien's stand-up clips appearing on YouTube, his regular viewership has sagged to 2.5 million viewers—that's niche market status.

Still, NBC seems to have obviously underestimated the cult love of O'Brien's audience. (And frankly, Fox appears to be ignoring it, too.) From an old-school perspective, maybe bringing back Leno makes sense; he can catch far more gray-hairs before they go shuffling off to bed, giving advertisers the exposure they want, even if those people aren't actually buying big ticket items. From a new media perspective, NBC should be careful. Everyone will soon be accepting slimmer profits and looking for ways to make new dividends. For now, even Jimmy Fallon has proven that he can win a stable audience, ironically by stealing much of O'Brien's court-the-nerd playbook. If he's reinstated, the network could probably make some extra money hawking "I'm with COCO" t-shirts.

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10 Comments

  • Jason Pasalis

    I don't understand why anyone likes Leno, he's just not funny.. Conan is a Harvard graduate and former writer for SNL and The Simpsons. Jay Leno is a former stand up comic/substitute talk show host for Carson. There's just no comparison.

    I've been watching Carson/Letterman, then Letterman/Conan since I was a kid. First NBC screwed Dave out of his chance to take over for Carson, now this.

    I think the real problem isn't that people like Leno better or Conan less. The problem is now you have Letterman and Conan competing over the same demographic and the blue hairs reaching for reruns of Ed Sullivan.

    I just hope the NBC execs don't think they can get quick ratings by selling their mothers.

  • Tony Hall

    This is a non-issue. Conan should be thrilled that he had a career at all and go away. As for NBC, well, it's just like the other so-called big networks (CBS, ABC), they have their heads so far up in the past they can see how dinosaurs became extinct.

  • Alexandra Pinedo

    Hasn't Jay just ran his course... for real! Maybe Coco would be better of at a new station with some better writers and people who actual see his talent for what it is. Don't let them push ya around CoCo.

  • Alexandra Pinedo

    Hasn't Jay just ran his course... for real! Maybe Coco would be better of at a new station with some better writers and people who actual see his talent for what it is. Don't let them push ya around CoCo.

  • Chris Reich

    What's really funny is that the late night talk show hasn't changed much since Jack Paar. The format is dead and the players are fighting for the scraps. Who wants to watch some half-in-the-bag Hollywood clown push his latest movie? The ratings will the network with something totally different to present at 11:30 p.m. than stale political jokes and clip pushing actors. Look at the hits YouTube gets. There's a great opportunity for a network to run low budget short subject "videos". Wake up networks! You don't need any of those bickering stiffs.

    Chris Reich
    www.TeachU.com

  • Steve Lee

    Hate Conan. Can't stand watching him talk about himself all the time.
    Would love him to win this fight and NBC to let Leno go. Then Fox can have a competing late night show head-to-head with Conan. Then we'll see...

  • David Godot

    I think one of the things that Internet people forget is that, even though we make a lot of noise on the internet, there are actually a lot fewer of us than there may seem to be. Conan's only pulling 2.5 million viewers a night; how can anyone even question why NBC wants to bump his show? They're in business, and without advertising dollars they're not in business anymore.

    On the other hand, the move is also pretty short-sighted. Didn't the same thing happen to Leno when he took over for Johnny Carson? Ratings dropped, everybody hated him and idealized Carson. It's a show with a sufficient level of entrenchment that it's difficult to make any changes.

    I think that in the final judgement, NBC's biggest mistake was trying to push Leno out of the spot before he was ready to retire. His following was loyal, he liked doing the show, there was just no reason to make the change at the time that they did. And now they're paying the price with a real lose-lose situation.

    David Godot
    Marketing Psychology Consultant

  • Jason Coup

    Over the last 5 years I've considered NBC to be the lead network when it comes to understanding and accepting new media and using it to their advantage. Maybe I was wrong...or just naive? Seems like they're stepping on a new media golden goose. Unfortunate.

    --
    Jason C.
    http://jasoncoup.blogspot.com

  • Alexandra Pinedo

    Hasn't Jay just ran his course... for real! Maybe Coco would be better of at a new station with some better writers and people who actual see his talent for what it is. Don't let them push ya around CoCo.