We all have our favorite late night talk show host – it’s only natural to feel a bond with someone who makes you laugh on a nightly basis, even though you’re separated by screens and airwaves. It’s no wonder that people from across the country felt triple blows when Jay Leno, David Letterman and Jon Stewart all stepped down from their late night thrones, leaving America to wonder who could possibly replace the late night greats.

Let’s look at Jon Stewart alone. When he announced the end of his 15-year run hosting The Daily Show this February, there were over 130 thousand tweets about his departure. Celebrities, including other talk show hosts, took to the platform to express their disbelief and respect for the man that warmed our hearts every night.

Emotional reactions to the retirement of a beloved host are not a new phenomenon – but digital outlets to publicly express grief are. TV personality Johnny Carson is often credited with popularizing the current late night show format (categorized as a talk show with a comedic slant on the day’s news, often including slapstick sketches and celebrity interviews) with NBC’s The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in the 1960s. The baby boomer generation undoubtedly wept when he announced his departure, but this was before the age of the Internet and social media.

While Jay Leno, David Letterman and Jon Stewart all ended their careers in the digital age, YouTube is not what catapulted them to the top of their career ladders decades ago. However, for current-day TV stars, capitalizing on online streaming early on is imperative to gaining millennial viewership, in addition to working their way into the hearts of modern day Americans – and we uncovered the data to prove this using Jumpshot Elite.

Millennials Streaming Platform:

Inspired by Vanity Fair’s recent profile of the ten current faces of late night TV, we decided to analyze how comedians Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, Conan O’Brien, James Corden, Jimmy Kimmel, John Oliver, Seth Meyers, Larry Wilmore, Jimmy Fallon and Bill Maher stack up against each other, with the hopes of gleaning valuable information about online viewing behavior and trends. We went into this analysis with an inkling that streaming was important, but we could not have predicted the immense impact YouTube has on millennial viewers.

Millennials account for 57 percent of YouTube viewers for these hosts, while only accounting for 36 percent of network viewers. This can be explained by the sheer size and age of YouTube, making it the only video content platform most millennials have ever known. Add to that YouTube’s nature of delivering precisely what the instant generation wants, i.e. easily discovered, digestible and shareable content that is optimized for screens of all sizes.

Late Night TV Viewer Demographics on YouTube and Network Websites

Overall, the online streaming platform of choice for viewers of the eight out of ten of the late night TV shows studied is, without a doubt, YouTube. On average, 87.5 percent of late night streamers choose Youtube, while only 12.5 percent stream on network TV websites. Late night TV streamers on YouTube also return to the platform one more time per day than streamers of network websites, reflecting that YouTube is indeed the platform of choice for watching late night TV.  

Looking at specific hosts, we can see that Conan O’Brien and John Oliver are the most reliant on YouTube streamers, as more than 99.5 percent of their audience watches their shows on YouTube. On the flip side, the two Comedy Central comedians, Trevor Noah and Larry Wilmore, have the smallest YouTube viewer base – only 12 percent of Noah’s viewers and under 5 percent of Willmore’s audience stream their shows on YouTube. But why?

Late Night Steaming Activity on YouTube and Network Websites

Why a YouTube Dedicated Channel is Crucial for Online Streaming:

The fact that Comedy Central hosts Trevor Noah and Larry Wilmore have a distinctly low proportion of YouTube streamers compared to their competitors on other networks intrigued us. A little more digging revealed the cause of this disproportional split in online streaming platforms. Comedy Central simply did not provide The Daily Show with Trevor Noah or The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore with their own dedicated YouTube channels. These shows and their hosts share Comedy Central’s YouTube channel with all of the network’s other shows.

YouTube channels are essentially a video hub that comes with a ton of seeding options, keywords, descriptions, etc. that integrate with Google’s organic search results. If you do not have a YouTube channel, you are missing out on a lot of organic traffic, which might explain the very low proportion of YouTube streaming for these comedians.

Now to the winner: as it stands, the internet will freak out when Jimmy Fallon eventually announces his retirement from The Tonight Show on NBC – he’s the current King of Late Night, representing over a quarter of the total late night TV streaming audience. The other nine faces of today’s late night landscape need to up their digital game if they too want to break hearts like Jon Stewart and his predecessors.

Bottom line: Viewers of the digital generation want to be able to watch what they want, when they want. They want to be able to search for short, shareable clips that they can spread throughout their social networks. They want to engage directly with whatever they’re watching on a more intimate level than previous generations – and that means that TV networks need to engage with the evolving technologies that their audiences gravitate towards. They need to embrace online streaming platforms, and particularly YouTube, to be the megaphone for their nightly antics with the same zeal that Johnny Carson did with television half a century ago.