Meet your next plush toy, t-shirt, mug, bobblehead, etc.
Quietly in the past few months, FOX laid the groundwork for a revolution in late night. It has nothing to do with Lorne, Fallon, Leno, Conan, Kimmel, Letterman, Stewart, or Colbert. In fact, kids growing up in America for the past 15 years might never have been significantly exposed to those late night titans, thanks to 8 years of YouTube, 12 years of Adult Swim, and an incredible 16 years of South Park. What started as me begging my parents to drive me to a friend’s house to find out who Cartman’s dad was, is now a nightly collection of edgy animated content on Adult Swim, to say nothing of the hugely successful YouTube channels driven by animation. Now, animation is poised to take over Saturday late night on broadcast TV, and after winning their demo in a prime time previewÂ on Sunday, ADHD is going to be king. Here’s why:
1. They have a proven digital strategy
When SNL hired the Lonely Island guys, it was a bold move that completely paid off. But they put all their eggs in one basket. Now Jorma is off directing movies, Akiva is a writer/director for big projects, and Andy (the face of the trio thanks to his ample camera time on SNL) isn’t even on NBC anymore. Yes, the Lonely Island YT channel is the lynchpin in the emerging Above Average MCN, but we’ve yet to see the way Above Average will integrate into SNL or other Broadway Video properties, and we’ve yet to see any new talent or brands emerge from the network. Not to mention, it’s unclear how or if NBC and Broadway Video can or will collaborate to sell ad packages spanning BV’s television properties and their online presence – that’s a key part of making sure your digital arm thrives, as Smosh and others have proven.
In contrast, ADHD is a digital brand at its core. Recognizing that their key demo spends most of their entertainment time online, ADHD grew a YouTube channel and a Tumblr blog before they even announced the name of the programming block to advertisers at this year’s upfronts. The channel is now doing a respectable 1MM views per month and growing at a steady clip of 8,000 subs per month. And almost none of the content on the channel is related to the shows that will premiere on TV – it’s all new IP that shares a tonal and thematic core with the TV shows, extending the brand experience into the digital conversation. To top it all off, ADHD was introduced to advertisers at the upfronts this year as a cross-platform experience – that’s refreshing.
2. Up-and-coming talent want to work with them
There was a time when a comedian’s ultimate dream was to be on SNL. Now a comedian’s ultimate dream to is get off of SNL. Getting the nod of approval from Broadway Video and Lorne Michaels is still a major accomplishment, a badge of honor, and an acceptance into comedy elite, but just being on the show pales in comparison to the money and fame that stars stand to receive by becoming Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Jimmy Fallon, or any of the other graduates who’ve gone on to become names themselves. I think that’s partly because the rise to fame for any comedian includes so much personal brand building, from standup shows to hilarious Twitter feeds and self-produced web series, and in the new media economy a personal brand can lead to amazing opportunities just like an SNL nod can. When a person has the opportunity to achieve success on their own terms, it’s a tougher to make the choice to give it to Broadway Video and become part of an ensemble.
Since ADHD offers multiple shows to write on and none are live action (yet), they’re able to cast a wider net without having to lock people into network staff writing or appearance contracts. It’s a setup that better accommodates the 21st Century comedian. With a premiere slate featuring Nick Offerman, Rob Huebel, Mandy Moore, TJ Miller, Tyler the Creator, and Nathan Barnatt to name a few, along with writers from respected web sketch groups like Good Neighbor, ADHD is making it a policy to work with comedians who are a bit left of center, people who I’d argue might not fit into an SNL cast but certainly not for lack of talent. They’re also people who are growing significant personal brands via their own original content and special appearances, from Offerman’s messages to Movember participants, to Huebel’s web series on Blip, and TJ Miller’s hilarious Gorburger show on YT.
3. Nick Weidenfeld is setting himself up as the new Lorne Michaels
Behind SNL is Broadway Video, and behind ADHD is Friends Night. The independent production company run by Weidenfeld still produces for Adult Swim while also building ADHD Studios, and they also participate in a host of other collaborations from music videos for hot bands like Major Lazer and YACHT, to books with alt culture leadersÂ Odd Future. Mobility across multiple projects is a key part of Broadway Video and Lore Michaels’ success, because it’s allowed them to extend their brand and their success outside of SNL. I believe Friends Night will do the same, in its own way of course.
Broadway Video focuses on incubating talent, fostering comedians in one place (SNL) and then bringing them somewhere else (30 Rock, Late Night w/ Jimmy Fallon). Like I talked about above, that’s much more difficult in a world where comedians feel they can develop and monetize a personal brand on their own. Friends Night has already structured ADHD differently, focusing on the shows themselves rather than the talent involved (not a single show begins with an extended credits sequence like SNL does). They’ve chosen to incubate IP rather than talent, betting that producing content creatively, efficiently, and with a distinctive voice will give them access to any talent they want. If mobility is the goal, I can’t think of a better way to achieve it.
4. FOX knows how to make and distribute merch
This is a key advantage for ADHD. SNL does a great business with its library of SNL sketches, a few coffee table books on the history of the show, and the occasional t-shirt, but anyone who’s grown a YT channel knows that nothing means more to a young demographic today than the ability to wear proudly your affiliation with a piece of content. FOX knows this business incredibly well thanks to nearly 25 years of The Simpsons and 16 years of Family Guy. It’s an important revenue stream, an important brand extension, and also a big advantage for conversations with advertisers, as ADHD will be able to offer ad packages that span TV, digital, and merch.
5. They don’t have to compete with topical SNL sketches…yet
Perhaps most importantly, FOX made the wise decision to start ADHD during the summer, when its target demo is out of school and staying up late every night, and when they won’t have to compete in Monday morning headlines with topical SNL sketches. Topicality is one thing SNL will always win on since animation takes time, but ADHD seems to be trying to stay timely by beginning their broadcast with a review of the week’s gifs from their website – we’ll see if that continues. For this summer however, every Monday’s press headlines can be dominated with how much steam ADHD is picking up, all in preparation for a showdown with SNL this fall. When SNL does return, it will be interesting to see if the younger ADHD demographic is able to propel them over the top or if they’ll prefer to wait to watch episodes online or on demand. But even if ADHD doesn’t win the ratings battle right away, my bet is on this horse for the long term.