Late Night and Trump

Does social media reward television hosts who take on the president?

Late night has always been a cornerstone of American television. Hosts have come and gone, some with legendary staying power, and some who simply couldn’t “make it work”. Hosting the late-night timeslot is no easy feat: Fresh material every weeknight, a new audience, and the need to be appealing on a mass scale — hosts must stay on their toes and on top of today’s topics to keep up with what the world cares about.
And in 2017, that means talking about Trump.

So far this year, the three main late-night hosts — Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon — have each taken different approaches to talking (and joking) about Trump. In this post, we use social media analytics to identify how each host has approached Trump, and what effect these varying stances have had on viewers.

Stay tuned

Let’s start with the most basic metric: viewership. What can we tell so far about the viewership of the late night shows on primetime television? According to Nielsen ratings, Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon are currently neck and neck in the rankings.

TV By The Numbers 

But what indicators might help us understand the changes in their viewership over time? Why are viewers in the last week tuning into Colbert far more often than Fallon? Social media analytics is a great way to understand more about the why behind audience behavior for the late night television slot.

Colbert takes the lead

So we know that Nielsen shows the success of Jimmy Fallon’s audience at the start of the season, but as recently as the last few weeks, a new host has taken the lead: Stephen Colbert. But why the switch, and what can we point to as the differences between these two late night audiences?
Simply put, Stephen Colbert generates the most social media discussions. He’s stirring up the most responses – both positive and negative.

Of all three late-night hosts, Colbert has probably been the most aggressive in his stance toward Trump. And social media has taken notice. The virality of his topics and conversations make for great social media fodder, and Colbert has held the lead for overall attention on Twitter. Looking at the late night hosts together, we see that Colbert has been leading the conversation over social since Trump’s inauguration, but Kimmel is a close second, following by Fallon.

The late night audience

Stephen Colbert is leading the left viewership in late night – Colbert seems to have brought his fans from Comedy Central with him. The like-minded humor from Jon Stewart has launched Colbert into first place for viewership. Late night viewing audiences share many of the same general interests, such as Basketball, NFL, or ESPN, but what’s clear is Stephen Colbert’s show draws an audience with a greater numbers in liberal-leaning interests.

Jimmy Fallon, on the other hand, has kept a greater hold on the conservative late night audience. It’s become clear that Fallon is choosing to stay away from political discussion while broadcasting the Tonight Show. Unfortunately, social media users have noticed, and it’s not doing Fallon any favors. Monitoring his overall social sentiment for the last 5 months we can see that fans discussing his approach towards Trump aren’t happy.
According to social media data, the negative sentiment about his show has only continued to rise in viewer’s eyes. Maybe staying out of the fray wasn’t actually the right path for Fallon.

What was social’s favorite late night moment?

Here are some top tweets for each show, according to social:
Jimmy Fallon’s actually refers to Conan O’Brien’s short-lived success on the show.

Stephen Colbert’s direct dig in February at POTUS left fans laughing hard. But it was Kimmel who stole the show over social, with a short and pithy post about Trump’s late-night tweeting habits. It didn’t hurt that Kimmel was hosting the Emmys that night, which is likely the reason his live-tweeting post grabbed so many users’ attention. The tweet garnered over 275,000 retweets. No other social post has even come close to generating that level of coverage for Kimmel since, as tweets following his show average about between 3,000-5,000 posts per week.

Overall, it’s tough out there for a late night host. But as Colbert continues to close the gap on viewership for Fallon’s Tonight Show, perhaps it’s time for the late night programming teams to rethink remaining out of the Trump political discussions, and get involved.
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