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Strike Watch: Viewers, Schmiewers. Will the Advertisers Come Back?

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Conan O’Brien and the Red Sox’s David Ortiz, both of whom have some spare time on their hands now. NBC Photo: Meghan Sinclair

Even as this post goes up, TV writers should be beginning to picket Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan, within convenient walking distance of a zillion TV-news camera crews. As I’ve mentioned before, it will take a while for the strike to affect some of TV’s most popular shows. But the strike may do its biggest, most long-lasting damage early.

Here’s how. What shows will go off the air first? Late-night shows like The Daily Show, Colbert and Conan. Who watches The Daily Show, Colbert and Conan? Statistically, a lot of younger viewers. Which viewers are the most fickle and most likely to abandon TV for other entertainment? The same ones to whom, starting tonight, TV issues an open invitation to stampede for the exits.

Now, they may all come back once the strike ends. (And they may not leave late-night TV altogether; there’s always Adult Swim.) But that’s not TV’s big problem. The big problem is the advertisers trying to reach them.

As a report on public radio’s Marketplace this morning noted, advertisers in late-night TV will immediately have to look other places to sell their wares. If they’re trying to reach young people, that probably means more ad money going to online and other alternative ad placements. If you’ve followed the TV business at all these past few years, you know that what really makes TV execs wake up in a cold sweat is persuading advertisers–again, especially those target viewers under 35–that they still need TV at all.

And now the advertisers have a chance to test that out. If they find they can sell videogames and trendy malt beverages elsewhere, they may not all come back even if the viewers do.

I know we have Tuned Inlanders in the ad business, so I’m curious to hear from them. But as for the rest of you, what do you plan to do with your free time while The Daily Show and Colbert are in reruns? Please don’t tell me you’re going to waste it on sleep.