Infotainment has become the new normal in media consumption. The consumer public has spoken, denouncing news purists and industry critics resoundingly, again and again. Stop me if you’ve heard this one, “More Millennials get their news from Comedy Central than the networks.” Yep, you likely have. And, with more Millennials entering the consumerist time of their lives, you can bet PR and ad agencies are listening.
Recently, Stephen Colbert began his first week as the host of CBS’s The Late Show, a seat most recently occupied by the estimable David Letterman. What connection does The Late Show have with the media biz? They are one and the same these days. The line between talk shows and news programming has been entirely erased in the minds of the viewing public. They now expect to see politics mixed with entertainment at every stop on their proverbial TV dial.
One of the chief reasons CBS chose Colbert to fill its top Late Nite spot is because of the ad revenue he brings. Remember those Millennials entering the consumer market? They LOVE Colbert, and even though they understood his gruff, brash TV “Character” was fake, they tuned into The Colbert Report to get their news anyway. He was their window to worldview. And now he is on deck to reshape late night infotainment. For the networks, Millennials mean better ad revenue and a huge bump in viral social media content. Sure, Boomers and Xers may not watch their show from beginning to end, the same way everyone tuned into Carson, Letterman and Leno … even the target market likely won’t watch the whole program … but they will NEVER stop talking about it. And it’s those conversations shaping culture in today’s America.
Colbert’s ascension means something for the “traditional” news networks too. They will need to shift (again) to expand their diminishing (read: dying) market. That means more news that looks and feels less like Cronkite and more like Stewart. See, we didn’t even need his last name. You knew about the Other Guy, who did news that was not news too. Arguably the Godfather of Infotainment, John Stewart left his wildly successful Comedy Central show early this year as well. He also left his mark.
Neither The Colbert Report or The Daily Show garnered the sort of ratings enjoyed by O’Reilly or Megyn Kelly, but they did their job so well even the king and queen of TV news could not ignore them. In fact, Stewart’s feuds with Fox’s established heavyweights actually earned him time on their show, helping him reach a larger audience than Comedy Central could have dreamed.
All of this signals a definitive sea change in the way information is delivered to the consumer masses. Anyone wishing to reach those said masses better stand up and take notice … and adjust accordingly.