by Patrick Ward
The Internet generates a large amount of traffic from younger demographics, making it a distinct marketing outlet for advertisers and television networks. Because an extremely valuable demographic is uploading large amounts of content to websites like YouTube.com and watching content on Youtube, Hulu.com, and Netflix.com, analysts suggest that the normal viewing approach to watching TV is on the verge of extinction and predict that mass television audiences will relocate to the Internet. However, recent data show that Internet viewership is not where these predictions suggests. Broadcast networks have yet to find a way of using the Internet to its fullest potential to connect to this demographic. Networks are starting to push late night talk shows via the Internet to remain relevant. This paper will explore the relationship between the Internet and TV and will explain why traditional television programming is not in danger.
The current thought is the need to integrate television with the Internet to remain viable, particularly to a younger audience. The obstacle for network television is that the Internet has its own community of shows with shorter episodes and freedom from censorship catered to this audience. Websites like Hulu, Fancast.com, or TV.com intend to keep all network or cable TV shows on their websites or on the networks’ websites. However, for an Internet user, it is not unreasonable for viewers to keep a Hulu tab opened next to a Youtube tab on their web browser.
Of the total videos uploaded to the Internet, YouTube hosts 40.9% of content. That is 5,919,350 videos out of 14,468,345 in total (Artero “Online Video Business Models: Youtube vs. Hulu”). “Nearly 60 percent of television viewers and 70 percent of [Internet] viewers reported that they had used the medium for entertainment ” (Logan “Hulu.com or NBC?”). The motives for the Internet and TV are very similar. The YouTube format is set up on an instant play and multiple watch format, with a social aspect where viewers are capable of sharing videos on Facebook.com and through various blogs. To put this in a context of numbers, if Facebook was a country, it would be the third largest country in the world with 800 million users (Statistics, Facebook.com). Google acquired YouTube in 2006 for 1.86 billion dollars (Associated Press “Google buys YouTube”). A study conducted in 2009 by Universidad de la Sabana says that Google Sites (now, YouTube.com) “provide for 40.9 percent of all the videos reproduced in the American market. Hulu’s share was only of 2.6 percent, although later measurements show it is ahead of Fox and is now the second largest online video platform in the United States” (Artero, “Online Video Business Models: Youtube vs. Hulu”).
This information seems to show that there is a lot of money to be made online, but the information has been misconstrued. It does show that large amounts of content is being made for the Internet. However, out of the top ten videos on YouTube with the most views, eight of them were music videos and the other two were unscripted home movies. The video with the most views was Justin Bieber’s “Baby ft. Ludacris” with 672,920,397 views (Judson, “Charts – YouTube”). These are the videos that are on YouTube, more so than other web series. There is a large number of viewers on YouTube watching videos, but these videos aren’t necessarily in competition with prime time programming on network television.
Recent data show that Internet viewership is not where the hype suggests. One argument against the traditional television model compared to the Internet model is that there is a freedom of choosing when to watch content online, whereas television is once a week. But according to the Journal of Advertising,” the average time spent watching television is 4.7 hours compared to 2.9 hours on the Internet. Even compared to the prime time hours, 49% of people are watching television whereas 47.6% are on the Internet” (Logan “Hulu.com or NBC?”). This information shows that there is still a large number of people who are watching television in the traditional manner, either due to preference or habit.
Habit is one reason why broadcast networks have yet to figure out a way to put their content online in a successful way. As we know, advertising is the main source of revenue for broadcast networks, and without enough advertising income in a new endeavor, a network may deem it as unnecessary. “Nearly 60 percent of OTV users agreed that advertising was distracting; fewer than half of the television users agreed with the same statement “(Logan “Hulu.com or NBC?”). OTV users are the people in the survey that preferred the Internet over TV. The survey asked the participants “when I watch television in real time, the advertising is…” with the answer choices being distracting, disturbing, forced, interfering, intrusive, invasive, and obtrusive. Nearly all of the choices were stronger with disapproval by the Internet audience by roughly nine percent.
This data suggest that younger audiences are unwilling to accept what television on the Internet will mean for them. The avoidance of advertising on the Internet isn’t something that younger demographics have become accustomed to throughout their entire lives. YouTube was commercial free before its acquisition by Google. We are accustomed to Internet content being free. On the other hand, we are also used to advertisements during traditional television programming. This is one of the facts that viewers have to accept with all forms of Internet content.
This puts networks and advertisers in a difficult position. They are dealing with a group of people that want their content but do not want to play by their rules. Hulu which “NBC Universal helped create and currently owns about a 30% interest in” (James “Comcast Will Retain NBC’s Stake in Hulu”) is currently the world’s second largest video hosting website behind YouTube. It currently comes in around three percent of total videos on the Internet. “The website is the place where users can watch television shows from networks such as ABC, NBC, and FOX. With limited advertising, users can watch recently aired episodes of their favorite shows. Users have to upgrade to Hulu Plus for a small monthly fee to watch entire seasons, which are still being shown with commercials.” (Artero “Online Video Business Models: Youtube Vs Hulu”)
One of the biggest places for younger audiences to flock to on broadcast television is late night talk shows. The late night spectrum, much like the Internet, has been a popular medium for college students. It is here that we see network television trying to penetrate the Internet through their hosts via Facebook, Twitter.com, or the show’s own website. However, most networks push viewers to go online after watching any of their shows to generate traffic.
There are many late night programs to watch. A late night talk show offers a personal one-on-one feeling five nights a week. This goes beyond a one hour drama or sitcom airing once a week. The audience member finds that their host particularly speaks to their sense of humor. Beyond the show’s content, many aesthetics go into making a show likable. For example, Conan O’Brien had a hit in New York as the host of Late Night with Conan O’Brien on NBC. The set was a little shoebox compared to the one that he would use at as host of The Tonight Show. In New York, Conan started an enormous fan base and had a lot of momentum going into his new job in Los Angeles as host of The Tonight Show. He brought along the same material from Late Night and had fan favorite guests back on the show, but something was not right. Lorne Michaels, executive producer of Saturday Night Live said that the show’s set was too large, and it made Conan (who is well over six feet tall) look small. The show lost its sense of warmth and eventually lost faith at NBC, even though the show did exceptionally well in the young demographic (Carter “War For Late Night”). This goes to show that the intimate level of late night talk shows runs deep with the viewer, where advertisers and networks want to integrate television and the Internet.
Today, there is a whole new level of intimacy in late night programming. Late Night with Jimmy Fallon plays a game with viewers called “Late Night Hashtags,” where he prompts his viewers to go on Twitter using a predetermined hashtag and write a funny line including the hashtag. For example, Jimmy Fallon will send out this tweet saying: “Let’s play the hashtag game! Tweet something funny or embarrassing that happened at a party and tag w/ #partyfail. Could be on our show! (Fallon “Late Night Hashtags”).” Conan O’Brien has a segment called “Conan Fan Corrections” where fans of Conan go to “www.teamcoco.com/hahaifoundanerror” to post where Conan made a mistake. These are all efforts made to establish themselves into the fan conversation.
Traditionally, the Internet has been the place where the conversations have been happening. If a fan of one particular show wanted to have a discussion, then they would find the appropriate website to speak their mind. This is still a popular outlet on the Internet for fans. This is a part of the Internet that networks and advertisers have overlooked as a potentially lucrative area for revenue until recently. The Internet is much different from television in terms of how we use them. The fact that we are unwilling to accept advertisements on the Internet compared to traditional TV shows we do not think of the mediums as being equals. Where as television is where fans watch, the Internet is where fans discuss.
Fan culture for TV shows takes place on the Internet. This discussion “enables one person or group to exert their will and interest over others” (Lewis 25). The only difference now, as opposed to five years ago, is that the host is driving the discussion and is the point of authority. Embracing the culture that fans have set up for their program is what Conan O’Brien, Stephen Colbert, and Jimmy Fallon all do. The similarities between these shows are that they cater to that valuable younger viewers.
Along with a desk, couch and monologue, networks want viewers to watch with their laptops. Shows now offer their host the option to live-tweet during the show’s airtime. Conan O’Brien in particular has totally redirected all fan oriented content to his website. The name of Conan’s official website was started by a campaign of fans teaming up in protest against NBC’s plan to put The Tonight Show on at a later time slot. They viewed this act as a slap in the face, and the fans started an online campaign called “Team Coco.” Conan adopted Team Coco and is making a conscious choice to bring his fans to him. Conan’s website promoted the first episode by posting a poll where the fans choose the first guest of the show.
John Wooden, GM and executive producer of Team Coco Digital, discussed the strategy behind Team Coco: “We’re plotting our digital content strategy with him… TeamCoco.com will remain the hub of all things Conan. There will not be a TBS.com show page for Conan’s show” (Fast Company “Team Coco Head Talks”). The significance behind this is the realization that the Internet is run by the fans, and to successfully market a show online is to be a part of their culture. “What’s so unique about Team Coco as a brand is that it sprung organically from a grassroots movement within social media. That’s in our DNA. We’re committed to maintaining Team Coco and building the fan base. Look for us to be extremely active and have a robust presence on all the main social media networks.”(Fast Company “Team Coco Head Talks”)
Conan has notoriously been a huge success with the younger audience throughout his career, and the successor to his old job as host of Late Night on NBC, Jimmy Fallon, also has a young fan base. Fast Company asks,“will Conan continue to use social media on his show like, say, Jimmy Fallon? You can safely say that we will. What we’re aiming for is an unprecedented degree of cross-platform integration…we’ve been doing a series of Webisodes with Conan, and we’re developing more great stuff for the Web.” (Fast Company “Team Coco Head Talks”).
Offering exclusive material on the web is a way to get fans to buy into the website and to continue coming back. In the late night talk show spectrum, the laptop or Internet-enabled device is being integrated as an essential piece to watching the show to a younger audience. Shows like The Colbert Report, Jimmy Kimmel Live, and The Daily Show actively integrate the Internet because of the younger demographic. When Jon Stewart has a guest on that The Daily Show can’t fit into a half hour episode, he features the extended interview online. The website features over 70 extended interviews starting from 2007 (Stewart “Daily Show Extended Interviews”). Casually, Jon Stewart stops the conversation and asks his guest if they can stick around and tells the viewing audience to check the rest out on the web. Stewart has no regard for the time limitations if there is a great interview. This was revolutionary because the show doesn’t have to end if it has surpassed the allotted time. One episode of a show that started on network television can go on forever on the Internet.
Jimmy Kimmel, host of Jimmy Kimmel Live brought a new level of the Internet to his show for a stunt he dared parents to participate in. He challenged the parents to hide their children’s Halloween candy and had them record their responses. He then took all of the video clips and combined them together for a series of clips featuring crying children (Jimmy Kimmel’s ‘I Told My Kids’). This is a contemporary take on Americas Funniest Home Videos by focusing exclusively on one of the most loved web sensations, i.e. crying babies. One of the top 10 most popular YouTube videos, which features two little baby brothers playing with each other, reached 395,582,563 views (Judson “Charts – YouTube”). This is implementing the Internet into a demographic just above that of Conan and Jimmy Fallon. This also speaks in volumes to the misguided claims that analysts made saying that mass viewership like this is going to take down broadcast television.
Of course, the content on The Daily Show‘s and Conan’s websites feature an ad before each video, with multiple ads along the sides of each page. The sites are also being featured on YouTube with their own channel where Conan places clips from the show to reach out to his fan base on YouTube.com.
Fighting the Internet with television is the same as fighting TV with film-the two are completely different in format and desire from the fan bases. Users who like the Internet also like television and movies. To have one central hub to watch all three of the mediums is a way to make the casual viewing process easier. The Internet generates a large amount of traffic from younger audiences on websites like YouTube.com, but as we’ve seen, analysts suggesting that the traditional viewing approach to watching TV is on the verge of extinction isn’t true because viewers haven’t been accustomed to the ramifications that television on the Internet comes with. Television audiences will not relocate to the Internet. The best way for broadcast networks to achieve a successful way of using the Internet to its fullest potential is to connect to the desired demographic’s wants and culture. Networks are pushing late night talk shows via the Internet to stay relevant through the fan community and culture that has already been established on the there. For now, networks will put full episodes up online and load them with advertising. But they aren’t expecting it to overshadow traditional TV, and to compare a web series to a television show isn’t fair or appropriate because of the difference in the intent and nature.
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