As NBC has reached a buyout agreement with Conan O'Brien and his staff totaling an estimated $44 million, the past two weeks have been an amazing case study in many areas, including but not limited to, executive mismanagement, PR fiascos, and social media. While seemingly everyone else on the internet has weighed in on Jeff Zucker's epically terrible strategy and tact in handling the Tonight Show franchise, we thought this was a great chance to take a quick look at the social media impact of this disaster.
It's no shock that Conan has the younger audience and therefore is receiving much more support in the social media space. Conan-related hashtags have kept the soon-to-be-former Tonight Show host atop twitter (#imwithcoco, #teamconan, #inconanwestand, #conan, #imwithconan, #coco, to name a few). Fellow celebrities have also voiced their support for the copper-coiffed star.
Over on Facebook, the biggest group in support is found on the Fan Page I'm With COCO which has mobilized over 530,000 supporters in just over a week since Conan's 'People of Earth'? statement. They've demonstrated outside NBC studios in New York and Los Angeles with the Los Angeles rally drawing over one hundred people in the pouring rain. Their dedication was rewarded with an appearance by Conan himself who ran alongside the protesters and showered them in praise from a studio rooftop. He even bought the crowd pizza! How can you NOT like this guy?!
Caught up in the cross hairs of this is Jay Leno who is certainly the beneficiary of the Tonight Show fiasco but is also being made out (wrongfully so, in my opinion) to be the villain in this drama. For the man who is supposed to be the savior of the franchise there are no I'm with LENO groups, no rallies and no overwhelming social media buzz. Wait, that's not true. There has been a quickly developing Leno hashtag meme (#lenofacts) where users associate Leno as the root of many evils ' think Chuck Norris facts, but in a bad way.
So Conan certainly has social media momentum but how much do studio execs really care? Ratings equal revenue and while Conan has diehard fans, Leno is more mainstream and has a larger audience. This could be a very short term strategy since Conan's younger fans will tune-in for years to come and there's always the very-real possibility that Leno retires. Yikes.
Regardless of what happens, years from now we'll look back on this as a moment that will shape late night for years to come. Who do you think will end up being the big winners from this?