Conan O'Brien I'm With CocoConan O’Brien may now have waved goodbye to both The Tonight Show and NBC, but his television career is far from over. However, could his future lie on the Internet rather than on a network, and could online video possibly provide the audience and advertisers he’d need?

Conan Vs. Jay

The Tonight Show is an American institution, and its presence in the TV schedules, and who is presenting it, are subject to debate and controversy. It happened with Dave Letterman in the 90s and has now happened with O’Brien.

Conan took over The Tonight Show from Jay Leno last year, with the latter hosting his own prime-time chat show. But eight months on and NBC decided neither show was pulling in the expected ratings, which started a long battle which ended with Leno taking The Tonight Show back and O’Brien leaving the network altogether, albeit $33 million richer.

O’Brien’s Future

O’Brien is free to join another network from September 2010, and there are likely to be plenty after his skills as a presenter and the audience he’d no doubt bring with him.

However, Conan does, of course, have another option: taking his show to the Web and forgoing the need for a network altogether. After his experience with NBC, this must be an attractive option for O’Brien, especially as it would give him complete control over his destiny and see the rules on what he can say and do relaxed.

To Web Or Not To Web

The New York Times made the case for O’Brien to move to the Web, arguing that the Internet means people consume television in different ways now anyway. The whole argument over The Tonight Show centered on its time slot, but that is a somewhat moot argument when DVRs and online video rule the roost.

MediaPost took a different view, arguing that the world isn’t yet ready for the likes of O’Brien to take his show exclusively to the Web, mainly because it would be a lot harder to sell advertising for a Web-only show than it is for a traditional TV show. And even if the advertisers do bite, revenues would still be a lot less.

NewTeeVee estimates that The Tonight Show was worth about $200 million a year to NBC based on the 2 million viewers it got. Viewing figures would drop dramatically on the Web, and with lower CPMs expected (although not guaranteed), revenue would probably be limited to $20 million a year. And I’d suggest that’s generous.

Conclusions

There is no doubt in my mind that the Internet is becoming a pervading force for all media, TV, movies, and music. And Web-only offerings have seen some success, with Seth MacFarlane’s Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy immediately springing to mind.

However, it’s probably too soon for someone with the stature of Conan O’Brien to make the move lock, stock, and barrel. Give it a few more years though and we’ll definitely be at that point.

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