Trevor Noah's 'Daily Show' mandate: Lure millennials, digital heat

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Trevor Noah Reveals 'Daily Show' Changes


When Trevor Noah took the stage July 29 for a Television Critics Association Q&A, the new host of The Daily Show suggested that its focus on cable stalwarts Fox News and CNN soon might shift to BuzzFeed and Gawker. "The way people are absorbing their news in sound bites and headlines and little click links has changed everything," Noah, 31, told reporters. "The biggest challenge is, how do we bring all of that together?"

Comedy Central and its fellow Viacom cable networks are asking the same question. As its target demographic of millennial males increasingly consumes entertainment online, Comedy Central has seen its primetime audience shrink every year since 2012. That slide is familiar to all networks, but Comedy Central's recent 10 percent decline among adults 18-to-49 is especially troubling considering it boasts such zeitgeisty talent as Amy Schumer, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. The network scored 26 Primetime Emmy nominations in July (topped only by HBO and FX on cable), but the buzz has not translated to linear ratings success.

Schumer might best illustrate the conflict: Ten days before her Trainwreck opened to $30.1 million at the domestic box office, the July 7 season finale of Inside Amy Schumer mustered only 1.3 million viewers after three days of time-shifted viewing, the Nielsen metric Comedy Central uses. "I just go with the good faith that creating content that resonates with an audience, regardless of platform, is most important," says Kent Alterman, the network's president of original programming. "I'm going with the faith that the business models will be figured out so the monetization can follow."


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Trevor Noah's 'Daily Show' mandate: Lure millennials, digital heat
EXCLUSIVE - Jon Stewart and Trevor Noah at the 67th Primetime Emmy Awards on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision for the Television Academy/AP Images)
BURBANK, CA - JANUARY 06: Comedian Trevor Noah performs on the Tonight Show With Jay Leno at NBC Studios on January 6, 2012 in Burbank, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/NBCUniversal/Getty Images)
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR THE TELEVISION ACADEMY - Trevor Noah arrives at the 67th Primetime Emmy Awards on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. (Photo by Danny Moloshok/Invision for the Television Academy/AP Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Episode 4177 -- Pictured: (l-r) Comedian Trevor Noah talks with Bryan Branly backstage on January 6, 2012 -- Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 17: New Host of 'The Daily Show' Trevor Noah on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Thursday Sept. 17, 2015 on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS via Getty Images)
Trevor Noah poses for a portrait at The Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, Calif., Wednesday, July 29, 2015. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 4177 -- Pictured: Comedian Trevor Noah performs on January 6, 2012 -- Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - SEPTEMBER 11: Trevor Noah attends the Comedy Central Roast of Steve Hofmeyer at the Lyric Theatre, Gold Reef City on September 11, 2012 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Dominic Barnardt/Gallo Images/Getty Images for MTV)
US President Barack Obama and host Jon Stewart speak during a break in the live taping of Comedy Central’s 'Daily Show with Jon Stewart' on October 18, 2012 in New York. This is the second appearence on the satirical show by President Obama. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 28: Steve Buscemi and Jon Stewart speak onstage at Comedy Central Night Of Too Many Stars at Beacon Theatre on February 28, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for Comedy Central)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 08: (L-R) Jason Jones, Jon Stewart, Samantha Bee, and Aasif Mandvi attend The Night Of Too Many Start Live Telethon on March 8, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for Comedy Central)
Trevor Noah speaks onstage during the "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah" panel at the Viacom Networks 2015 Summer TCA Tour held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Wednesday, July 29, 2015 in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - SEPTEMBER 11:Trevor Noah attends the Comedy Central Roast of Steve Hofmeyer at the Lyric Theatre, Gold Reef City on September 11, 2012 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Justin Barlow/Gallo Images/Getty Images for MTV)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 28: Chris Rock (L) and Jon Stewart perform on stage at Comedy Central Night Of Too Many Stars at Beacon Theatre on February 28, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for Comedy Central)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 28: Jon Stewart and Paul Rudd speak onstage at Comedy Central Night Of Too Many Stars at Beacon Theatre on February 28, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for Comedy Central)
Trevor Noah arrives at the 2015 Entertainment Weekly Pre-Emmy Party at Fig & Olive on Friday, Sept. 18, 2015, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Rich Fury/Invision/AP)
EAST HAMPTON, NY - AUGUST 15: Jimmy Fallon and Trevor Noah attend Apollo in the Hamptons 2015 at The Creeks on August 15, 2015 in East Hampton, New York. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Apollo)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 28: John Oliver (L) and Jon Stewart perform on stage at Comedy Central Night Of Too Many Stars at Beacon Theatre on February 28, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for Comedy Central)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 28: Steve Carell (L) Jon Stewart perform on stage at Comedy Central Night Of Too Many Stars at Beacon Theatre on February 28, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for Comedy Central)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 12: Jon Stewart attends 'Rosewater' New York Premiere at AMC Lincoln Square Theater on November 12, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 05: Jon Stewart performs onstage at The New York Comedy Festival and The Bob Woodruff Foundation present the 8th Annual Stand Up For Heroes Event at The Theater at Madison Square Garden on November 5, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images for New York Comedy Festival)
AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 28: Host Jon Stewart at 'The Daily Show with Jon Stewart' covers the Midterm elections in Austin with 'Democalypse 2014: South By South Mess' at ZACH Theatre on October 28, 2014 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/Getty Images for Comedy Central)
AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 28: Congressman Joaquin Castro and host Jon Stewart at 'The Daily Show with Jon Stewart' covers the Midterm elections in Austin with 'Democalypse 2014: South By South Mess' at ZACH Theatre on October 28, 2014 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/Getty Images for Comedy Central)
Lee Roth/STAR MAX/IPx 9/19/04 Jon Stewart at the "56th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards". (Los Angeles, CA)
AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 28: Host Jon Stewart at 'The Daily Show with Jon Stewart' covers the Midterm elections in Austin with 'Democalypse 2014: South By South Mess' at ZACH Theatre on October 28, 2014 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/Getty Images for Comedy Central)
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To its credit, Comedy Central's digital footprint is much more formidable than its Viacom siblings. Its YouTube presence, overwhelmingly driven by the soon-to-end Key & Peele, has put the rest of the portfolio to shame with more than 1.5 billion views. But ad rates for digital views pale in comparison to traditional rates for, say, Daily Show, and branded digital vehicles have made much smaller impressions. Comedy Central launched streaming originals house CC:Studios in 2013. Despite its "Not for TV" mantra, its biggest contribution has been shifting two series (This Is Not Happening and Idiotsitter) to the network. And its stand-alone app, tethered to mandatory cable authentication and offering a small library because of rights issues, has been a nonstarter.

Comedy Central has been outpaced by fellow Viacom net MTV when it comes to website traffic. ComScore put MTV, driven by MTV News' editorial content, at 19.9 million unique visitors in June, ahead of Comedy Central's video-heavy 12.8 million. (VH1 was a distant third in the portfolio, down 12 percent year-over-year with 5.5 million uniques.) However, unable to secure rights to the most popular artists' music videos, MTV's digital presence in its historical area of expertise is modest at best. And like CC:Studios, online studio MTV (other) has made few waves -; nor has its inaugural YouTube channel, Braless, a feminist spin on current events that seldom sees its offerings crack 200,000 views.

"When you pick up somebody's iPhone, you don't see Comedy Central or MTV apps on the home screen," says BTIG media analyst Richard Greenfield. "We live in a mobile-driven world, and companies like Viacom and Discovery are not part of it. I'm sure there'd be a lot of interest in Comedy Central if you could buy it directly. The question is, what would that do to their business?"

As Jon Stewart signs off Aug. 6, Daily Show largely remains an outsider in late-night's battle for viral success. The morning-after war waged by NBC's Jimmy Fallon and ABC's Jimmy Kimmel, who tailor content for streaming bites and post a surplus of online exclusives, is a two-man race. Stephen Colbert has shown digital aptitude in promos for the Sept. 8 relaunch of CBS' Late Show, but Comedy Central's Stewart and Larry Wilmore (of The Nightly Show) largely are bound by the structure of their linear telecasts.

Noah's arrival Sept. 28 could signal a turning point. "We will start moving to The Daily Show not being thought of as that half-hour slot on TV but having a presence that transcends that location and hopefully being available to people where and when they want to watch it," says Alterman. Still, experts don't anticipate Comedy Central or any other nonpay network will bite the hand of the lucrative cable bundle, as HBO and Showtime recently have. For Comedy Central, the challenge is to find a happy medium that secures a younger audience online and for the traditional network. Regardless of whether he understood that when he took the job, Noah now shares that mission.

Additional reporting by Bryn Elise Sandberg.

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