'SNL,' Jimmy Fallon, Kimmel Turning Late Night Laughs Into Digital Dollars

Stephen Colbert Jimmy Fallon Comdey with Music - H 2012

Stephen Colbert Jimmy Fallon Comdey with Music - H 2012

With hundreds of millions of views, "Saturday Night Live," "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" and "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" have struck gold through their online videos.

SNL’s Andy Samberg didn’t set out to become Weird Al Yankovic’s digital age heir apparent. He and his Lonely Island bandmates “started making joke songs because a roommate had a four-track,” he says. “We would have a couple beers and screw around.” Their videos “Jack Sparrow” (with Michael Bolton), “I’m On a Boat” (with T-Pain), and “I Just Had Sex” (with Akon), garnered more than 149 million views and 900,000 downloads. “You can’t really fathom that many people are watching some stupid song that you made,” laughs Samberg, 33. “It’s mindblowing.”

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Late Night with Jimmy Fallon is further proof that music and comedy are an ideal digital platform coupling. Nuggets from the show are posted on Hulu and the Late Night site — bringing online viewers back to the show. With 4.7 million Twitter followers, Fallon, 37, is his own best megaphone. He mobilized his FalsPals to raise money for DonorsChoose.org, a schools charity, by promising that Stephen Colbert would come on Late Night and sing “Friday,” the widely ridiculed Rebecca Black song/video sensation, if they donated $26,000. They did, and Colbert sang, with a cameo from Taylor Hicks.

“We’re big on trying to find ways to take on things without being too negative,” says Late Night supervising producer Gavin Purcell, 37. “It would have been too easy to slam that song because everyone was saying it was the worst song ever.  But we wanted to celebrate rather than hate on it.”

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Jimmy Kimmel’s YouTube channel, an adjunct to Jimmy Kimmel Live!, is a repository for video shorts and viral hits like  “I’m F—ing Matt Damon” and “I’m F—ing Ben Affleck,” featuring Cameron Diaz and Harrison Ford. The two generated 30 million plus views in three years.

“We definitely were pioneering as far as late night shows go in focusing on our digital universe,” says JKL! co-executive producer Doug Deluca, 45.

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Kimmel’s YouTube Challenge, which asks fans to upload their own videos, is a marvel of viewer engagement. A Halloween candy meltdown scenario was viewed 27 million times in two months. Those eyes mean dollars. The channel generated close to $2 million in ads in 2011.