When Johnny Carson and Jay Leno hosted NBC’s Tonight Show, fans engaged with them by going to Las Vegas to catch their stage acts. With Jimmy Fallon, fans of all ages engage with him online.
Carson, Leno and Fallon are great comics and entertainers. But the shape of their TV shows reflects changes in media, viewership and engagement.
People made it a point to stay up late to watch Johnny Carson kid around with his laugh-track sidekick, Ed McMahon. Leno inherited Carson’s loyal audience, but saw it dwindle as new ways of watching TV began eating away at Nielsen ratings. Fallon’s ratings dropped, too. But his Twitter followers skyrocketed.
Increasingly, Fallon’s Tonight Show is geared for audiences accustomed to watching when they please. One estimate says more than 70 percent of Fallon’s audience watches his show online. The show is also geared to lure in a wider audience through online engagement that turns into comedy bits on the show.
Each week, Fallon tweets with a hashtag inviting viewers or people who are just curious to submit their personal stories relating to his clever hashtag. On his Wednesday show, Fallon reads a selection of the best submitted tweets. Here is one based on the hashtag #HowIGotFired.
Fallon crowdsources content. He invites viewers his social media sites, such as Tumblr, to send in funny photos and video clips. He engages many of his on-air guests in silly games, resulting in breaking eggs on foreheads, chugging beer and wearing outlandish outfits, which encourages viewers to replicate the games and send in their video
Perhaps the biggest form of online engagement is through YouTube. Fallon, as well as Stephen Colbert and other late night show hosts, post a lot of material, packaged to be easily viewable and shareable. One popular segment featured Fallon in a lip-syncing contest with actress Emma Stone, which has attracted a staggering more than 78 million views. Another involved Fallon and Justin Timberlake as irrepressible young campers who vexed the camp counselor. These popular clips posted on YouTube boost viewership and attract a wider audience for the show.
For advertisers, the switch to online viewing and more digitally oriented content poses opportunities and challenges. Instead of relying on TV viewing ratings, they have to gauge social engagement and “softer” metrics, such as association. The upside for advertisers is that they can target more than just night owls and an older demographic.
Marketers are catching up, as evidenced by the shifting tone of advertising, which often adopts a humorous tone and quick-paced editing that matches the comedy of late night TV shows – and the continually evolving viewing patterns of online audiences.