David Letterman: Evolve or Die

By Michelle Seiler-Tucker, Special for USDR

With the music industry in a financial uproar, independent record labels becoming more successful and prominent than ever, TV stations and networks on the downswing in overall ratings, while amateur YouTube shows and online streaming grows in popularity by the second, there is simply no more room for “business as usual.” Businesses that adapt the fastest to the ever-changing landscape of society are also the ones that win the biggest.

David Letterman made his inevitable announcement on April 3rd’s “Late Show with David Letterman” that he will be retiring in 2015. His reasoning behind the decision included his ever-escalating age and his yearning for more quality family time. But the main reason for his departure, which can be heard from the loudest whispers of the industry and casual viewers alike, is the deafening fact that a fresher new surge of late-night TV hosts are inches away from devouring the late-night legend in the ratings; a necessary move, provided by the current climate of popular culture.

It has become glaringly obvious that the analog hosts of yesteryear are fading quickly in this new digital world of social media and viral videos. CBS has taken heed to similar circumstances experienced by their contemporaries. Blockbuster, which used to have 9,000 stores at its peak, with total revenue of $5.9 billion in 2004, is now no more than a cautionary tale after a bankruptcy auction in 2011, due to the retailer being crushed by the new dominant digital video-streaming distributor Netflix. If the once, rental monopoly had changed with the times and took advantage of its dominance in the industry by capitalizing on the breakthrough streaming technology, Blockbuster would still be a thriving multi billion-dollar company today.

There are more assumptions than not that the scheduling of Letterman’s retirement announcement is directly related to the introduction of Jimmy Fallon as the latest host of the ever popular “The Tonight Show”. By the time Fallon began at the rival late-night show, Letterman had grown accustomed to second place in the nightly ratings, and that stark reality has only increased after his famed arch nemesis, Jay Leno’s departure only a few months ago. Fallon’s “Tonight Show” has lured twice as many viewers as Letterman’s; and in the coveted 18-49 demographic, Letterman comes in third right behind Jimmy Kimmel in the late night line up. For the very influential segment of the TV audience, the concept of passive viewing has changed radically. The water cooler conversations concerning quick whipped one-liners used to be saved for the next morning over a sweet glazed donut among co workers, but now the conversation is occurring while the show is still live and in process through media outlets like Twitter, a favorable reaction that is almost nonexistent with the Letterman audience.

In today’s age of the Internet, the fashion in which the key demographic takes in late-night TV is a far cry from Letterman’s heyday. Today’s late-night TV is condensed to commentary skits and clips one can enjoy at their own leisure. This proposes a grave problem to the talk show veteran whose mastery of the classic form of engage and giggle has kept him on air for 33 years. The combat for viewers is now battled out with short viral video clips that can be shared over the next few days rather than complete shows with monologues and pleasant banter with celebrity guests commonly associated with the fundamental components of the late show format.

Jimmy Fallon is a master at utilizing social media for buzz and ratings for his show; his musical moments, which incorporates the likes of legends by way of Mariah Carey and other superstars, are a Youtube staple among the viewing masses. Which serves in the best interests for both parties involved being that record sales have plummeted considerably in the past decade due to Internet piracy and free digital streaming apps like the ever popular Spotify, which allows listens to enjoy their favorite artists’ full bodies of works with no price tag attached to the service. Because of this massive change in the music industry, music-charting systems like Billboard have been forced to include social media dominance, YouTube views, and music streams when factoring an artist’s chart position and industry relevance.

There is no disputing the amazing legacy that David Letterman has left in Late Night TV, but there is a major lesson that we as professionals should take away from this situation. In business, one must evolve with the times or become completely obsolete. Many people who long for those “good ol’ days” become stuck in the distant memories of what was and neglect to capitalize on the current opportunities of the present. I strongly believe that if Letterman opened his eyes to the current state of popular culture and integrated the contemporary tactics of today to his once viable television show, this not-so-surprising retirement announcement would have come years down the line welcomed with congratulatory applause instead of side eyes and “I told you soes”.

All opinions expressed on USDR are those of the author and not necessarily those of US Daily Review.

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