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Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert

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  • Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert

    Comedy Central Tries to Gauge Passion of Its Viewers
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    Published: August 25, 2009

    DO your friends who watch Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, the late-night hosts on the Comedy Central cable channel, stop you on the latte line the next morning or e-mail, text or tweet you to quote lines from those shows?
    Skip to next paragraph
    Steve Manuel/USO, via Reuters

    Stephen Colbert, above, and Jon Stewart draw more devoted attention from their primary fans than other late-night hosts, Comedy Central is telling advertisers.
    Ethan Miller/Getty Images, for Comedy Central

    Jon Stewart

    And when they do, do you think that they’re kind of cool?

    Comedy Central has research that says you do — or at least some committed fans of those shows are convinced that you do. A little over 20 percent of hard-core fans of Mr. Stewart and Mr. Colbert said in a “multi-engagement study” conducted by Harris Interactive Research that “people think I’m cool because I watch” those two programs.

    And, the same survey says, viewers who identify themselves as fans of other late-night hosts — viewers who don’t even watch the Comedy Central shows — are pretty darn impressed too. Among the terms fans of people like Jay Leno, David Letterman and Conan O’Brien used to describe viewers of Mr. Stewart and Mr. Colbert were “enthusiastic,” “friendly,” “fun,” “more informed, “more intelligent,” “trustworthy,” “warm,” and “witty.”

    All those encomiums, which were included in a list that participants could check off, were chosen by more than 60 percent of people answering the survey, which, it should come as no surprise, was commissioned by Comedy Central. Besides the virtue of puffing up their viewers’ self-images, the survey had a practical point.

    The cable channel wants to prove that its late-night viewers are so impassioned about their hosts that their shows offer special value to beleaguered television advertisers looking to ensure that their messages reach truly engaged viewers.

    That message, however much anyone might question its provenance, may have real resonance, said Andy Donchin, the director of media investments for the Carat USA, an agency that buys commercial time for companies like Adidas and Pfizer. He said he was not directly familiar with the Harris research, but the implications sounded like something advertisers are now hungering for.

    “Passion, engagement — that is so huge to us.” Mr. Donchin said. “We are very big on involvement.”

    The information that Comedy Central put together was intended to contrast its late-night hosts with the other men in suits sitting behind desks and talking to guests over on the broadcast networks. As explained by Beth Coleman, a vice president for advertising sales for MTV Entertainment Networks, the parent of Comedy Central, the study asked 3,700 viewers of late-night shows to talk about their favorite shows and topics, including how often they watched, how many times they sought out the shows online, whether a program inspired them to action like buying books of guest authors — ultimately, how important the shows and hosts are in their lives.

    In terms of numbers, these committed late-night viewers tend to watch the Comedy Central stars more often, with about 40 percent averaging two-to-four viewings a week, according to the survey. The best performance by a network late-night star was Jay Leno (he was still on the “Tonight Show” then) at 29 percent.

    In the Harris survey, conducted from Oct. 29 to Dec. 22 last year — a period that included the presidential election and its aftermath, which could have bolstered the politically charged versions of late-night humor that Comedy Central offers — the biggest margins of difference came when fans were asked about their “emotional connection” to their favorite shows.

    Or, as Ms. Coleman described the behavior of the committed late-night viewers: “They not only talk, but they stalk.”

    When asked if they out-and-out loved a show, “The Daily Show” with Mr. Stewart hit 51 percent among those surveyed, with “The Colbert Report” second at 39 percent.

    Only one network star came close to generating that much love: CBS’s Craig Ferguson. Among his fans, 35 percent said they loved his show. That may come as something of a surprise to those who don’t often catch Mr. Ferguson, a host who almost always generates boisterous enthusiasm, and big laughs from his studio audience.

    Mr. Ferguson fared best of the network hosts in many other of the Harris survey categories (like “fits my entertainment needs perfectly”). But the network hosts always trailed the Comedy Central hosts. That apparently emboldened the cable channel to measure Mr. Stewart and Mr. Colbert against the ultimate object of viewer affection: Oprah Winfrey.

    Comparing reactions of committed viewers, the Comedy Central hosts easily held their own even against the power of Ms. Winfrey. She was dominant in things like getting viewers to visits Web sites and read books she recommended; but, in what looked like a real upset, both Mr. Stewart and Mr. Colbert did better on the question of whether a viewer wanted to be the host’s personal assistant for a day.

    Viewers of “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” have a deep personal connection to the shows, Ms. Coleman said. “They wear these shows like a badge,” she said. “It’s a cultlike phenomenon.”

    What advertiser wouldn’t want in on that? That is a question being posed by Jeff Lucas, the executive vice president for advertising sales for MTV Entertainment Networks. He said, “The quality of the viewers is a big determinant in getting advertisers to spend money, especially in tough economic times.”

    He added that Comedy Central is trying to use the Harris research to persuade advertisers that its late-night shows deserve a premium price. “This is independent of our saying it,” he said.

    Mr. Donchin of Carat said that although he had not seen the research, “I’d hate to say they can charge a premium” based on it.

    He said Carat’s clients would be impressed with evidence of deep audience involvement with the Comedy Central shows but would nonetheless probably buy across the spectrum of late-night programs. “We want to be on all the shows,” he said.
    “the misery of being exploited by capitalists is nothing compared to the misery of not being exploited at all” -- Joan Robinson

  • #2
    Viewers of “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” have a deep personal connection to the shows, Ms. Coleman said. “They wear these shows like a badge,” she said. “It’s a cultlike phenomenon
    I like those two shows but cultlike? that can't be good. Folks at Huff-po seem to worship them
    “the misery of being exploited by capitalists is nothing compared to the misery of not being exploited at all” -- Joan Robinson


    • #3
      They are funny comedians, I'll give them that, but they're not nearly as clever as they may think they are.

      In the end they are simple performers doing an act and that's all one can take away from it.



      • #4
        Or at least all one should take away from it.
        You know JJ, Him could do it....