No Joke: Does YouTube Send More Viewers, Ad Dollars To ABC’s ‘Kimmel Live’?

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February 13, 2012 – 1:59 pm

kimmelWait -- doesn't online video cannibalize traditional TV viewing? Well, okay, the arguments and analysis go back and forth on this, so for now, the safest thing to say is that it depends what we mean when we're talking about streaming.

And nothing is safer than looking at it on a case by case basis. Today's example in favor of the view that streaming video is additive is a WSJ piece by Christopher S. Stewart about ABC late night comic Jimmy Kimmel's success in using YouTube to increase his show's audience, while his rivals see their's shrink.

But like most things that cut across the traditional and digital divide, gathering the audience is just a first step.

"Online video as TV has arrived," Brian Hughes, SVP of audience analysis at Magnaglobal tells the WSJ. "The way now is figuring out how to bundle digital into your offerings and make some money off it." Still, research shows that Kimmel has made some definite progress in doing just that.

On the ratings side, viewership for ABC's Kimmel Live, which airs weeknights at midnight, from the start of the season on Sept. 19 through Feb. 5 was nearly 1.8 million, a 2.8 percent year-over-year gain, according to Nielsen. Meanwhile, the competition has moved in the opposite direction: The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, The Tonight Show were all down in the low single digits; Jimmy Fallon's show was roughly flat, while Conan O'Brien has dropped 42 percent.

Most importantly, Kimmel Live has turned a modest ratings increase into 14 percent rise in ad spending. WPP's Kantar Media says that ad dollars for the show were $72 million through the first nine months of 2011.

So how do we know that YouTube should be credited for Kimmel's ad and audience surge? Well, we don't. After all, Kimmel has been doing viral web clips for nearly four years, when the comic engineered a wildly over-the-top "feud" with actor Matt Damon. Incidentally, it's hard to find some of those clips, which have been "removed due to copyright claim by Disney," ABC's parent (though here's one that is available, featuring Kimmel's former girlfriend, Sarah Silverman, singing about F*@#king Matt Damon from Jan. 2009).

The numbers for both Kimmel's show and YouTube channel do clearly indicate that online hasn't hurt. Kimmel's YouTube channel, which has 316,087 (as of the early afternoon of Feb. 13) and over 14.6 million views, while WSJ reports that the 173 videos the program has uploaded since have since garnered 40 million views. That puts him higher than his late night TV brethren, but less than the biggest YouTube stars.

Kimmel's success on YouTube is primarily driven by the show's determined focus on feeding the Google-owned video site original videos, not just "last night's clips," creating a cycle of promotion that reinforces both.

But more than helping the show, Kimmel's YouTube presence helps his own personal brand. The comedian tells the WSJ that he would love to have his own separate website one day. That doesn't mean that he'll be able to follow the initial success that conservative icon Glenn Beck has achieved with his subscription-based But it should be fairly easy for Kimmel, if he so decides, to create some mix of ad support or pay-per-view offering one day.

Still, he's unlikely to earn the kind of money via online that he does from a major network show. In that sense, it may make the most sense for him to keep pushing both, since cannibalization of either would likely mean less audience and less revenue. And that realization is perhaps the closest proof we have as to whether online video enhances or diminishes the value of broadcast.


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February 13, 2012 – 1:59 pm

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