What Social Listening Can Teach Late Night TV Execs

Viewers welcome changes, but they also call for more diversity.

Late night television is living in the limelight this month. The announcement that Stephen Colbert is taking over CBS’s Late Show in 2015 has made a splash in the media since April 9th, and Monday’s announcement that Craig Ferguson is stepping down from late night has also created quite a buzz. The changing of the guard in late night TV was instigated by Jimmy Fallon’s succession of Jay Leno on the Tonight Show, and Seth Meyers filling Fallon’s spot on the Late Show.
Late Night TV Kings Letterman and Leno
With Jay Leno and David Letterman reining as the kings of late night TV since 1992 and Craig Ferguson holding the late late slot for 10 years, it is no surprise that viewers are excited about the new lineups. How are fans reacting to these shifts in late night television? Are there specific opportunities that television networks can capitalize on based on these reactions?
At Crimson Hexagon, we were interested in finding the answers to these questions through the analysis of social media conversations. Using the ForSight platform, we were able to go beyond conversations in the media to understand how viewers are reacting to the new late night lineups on Twitter.

Jimmy Fallon attracted over 11 million viewers for his premier episode as host of the Tonight Show on February 17th and since then has averaged 6 million viewers per week. After building a cult following around his current show, the Colbert Report, how will Stephen Colbert fair when he takes over for Letterman next year? To make a prediction, we used ForSight™ to analyze the volume of conversation discussing the April 2013 announcement that Jimmy Fallon would take over for Jay Leno and compared it to the volume of reactions surrounding Stephen Colbert’s move.

We began our research by comparing the fan bases of Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert as well as fans’ initial reactions to their respective announcements. Using the Crimson Hexagon Affinities™ tool we found that Colbert’s fans are more tech savvy; they have strong affinities for digital media, politics, technology, and entrepreneurship. On the other hand, Fallon fans are most interested in pop-culture, music, and sports.
Social Listening on Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert
Social Listening Volume trend comparison Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert
While the Jimmy Fallon announcement generated close to 45,000 comments, the Stephen Colbert announcement sparked over 115,000. Why did Colbert’s announcement draw so many more fans to comment on Twitter? Is it because fans are concerned about Colbert losing his satirical character as much of the media has speculated? Or was the larger volume driven by Rush Limbaugh’s controversial claim that “CBS has just declared war on the heartland of America” by choosing Colbert?
In order to understand what drove this difference in volume, we dove deeper into the conversation around Colbert using ForSight’s Opinion Analysis. We found that the general reaction to Colbert replacing Letterman was extremely positive (70%). Almost half of the conversation has been driven by excitement around the announcement and fans offering their congratulations to Colbert. A distinct 5% of the positive sentiment was driven by viewer excitement for a revitalized late night lineup. Fans are excited to see new faces and rivalries on their favorite late night shows.


Surprisingly, we found that while 30% of the conversation is negative, only 1% of fans feel that Colbert is a bad choice to replace Letterman. Additionally, less than 1% of negative conversation is driven by concern around Colbert dropping his satirical character for CBS’s Late Show, despite what most media sources had predicted. Rather, the majority of the negative conversation is driven by worry and speculation about who should replace Colbert in his slot on Comedy Central. Another 13% of the conversation expresses the desire for more diversity in late night TV overall.
Social Listening TV Host Word Cloud for TV execs


With two slots and big shoes to fill, Comedy Central and CBS have the opportunity to use these insights when selecting their new hosts. Not only are viewers excited about a new late night lineup, they are explicitly calling for a more diverse group of hosts. Fans are already making their predictions online; it is up to the networks to decide if they will listen to the voices of their viewers.

Taryn Scott
Written by Taryn Scott
As a Sales Executive at Crimson Hexagon, Taryn is focused on demonstrating the power of social insights and the ForSight platform within the media and entertainment space. Taryn is graduate of Bucknell University with a degree in Business Management and Spanish, and now resides in Brookline, MA.

Request a Demo

Ready to transform your business?

Get a walkthrough of Crimson Hexagon and learn how consumer insights can help you make better business decisions.