How Late-Night TV Hosts Are Slugging It Out on YouTube

For late-night shows, television is only part of the equation. The battle for eyeballs and cachet is increasingly shifting to online, where jokes and bits are viewed millions of times. So, according to the new math, who’s getting how many clicks?

It used to be easy figuring out who was king of late night. In the olden days, you'd simply add up the number of people watching a show as it aired in real time. Today, that would give Stephen Colbert the title, with 3.8 million viewers a night. But TV these days, like so many things, is much more complicated.

In fact, for late-night shows, TV is practically becoming irrelevant. The real battle for eyeballs is online, where jokes and bits are viewed billions of times. "It does seem to be the future," notes Seth Meyers, whose Late Night gag about bringing Game of Thrones' Jon Snow to a party has racked up 15.3 million views, four times Colbert's real-time viewership. "So we might as well figure it out."

For The Daily Show's Trevor Noah, online clips are still a marketing gimmick — "It's like the Swedish meatballs at IKEA; it's not really what they're selling, but it gets people into the door," he says — but others see online as the writing on the wall. "It's not that late night is changing, it's that the way people watch it is changing," says James Corden, whose Late Late Show clips on YouTube have been viewed an astonishing 4 billion times. "When Hugh Grant went on Jay Leno for his big apology [in 1995], it was huge in the ratings. But today, that clip would be watched millions and millions of times."

So, according to the new math, who is today's talk show king?

Corrected 12:10 p.m. Wednesday, June 13: An earlier version of the chart indicated that Fallon, not Corden, had the most-viewed clip.

This story first appeared in the June 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

comments powered by Disqus