The growth and relevance of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart defies media and news consumption trends while pioneering a new style of “news” and leveraging technology to deliver its content to eager audiences. Stewart’s unique delivery of serious, current subjects keeps people tuned in. And, his sincerity at holding a discussion with guests, as well as his coveted hard-to-find younger demographics, keeps the guest roster full.
Various think tanks and media groups continue to monitor the shifting habits of the American media consumer, and the verdict has been in for some time. Digital media has surpassed—long surpassed—print and television in importance. The “digital generation” now encompasses people of all ages’ technological skills, comfort and number of gadgets, rather than just focusing on kids of the younger generation.In television, media trends show a technical contrast between baby boomers (the youngest are now 50 years old) and younger generations. The average age of evening news viewers is 53 years old, compared to 36 years old for The Daily Show viewers. Subscriptions for cable are declining and the coveted demographic of 18-49 year olds receive their news in a variety of ways, from a variety of platforms.
So how and why has The Daily Show become so relevant in today’s fragmented media market?
The show assumes that the audience has a level of knowledge on current news and political events. While it was originally classified as a “fake news” show comparable to a longer version of SNL’s Weekend Update, with Stewart at the helm The Daily Show has evolved into a news satire program focused on politics and government. The audience needs to be aware of current affairs and the latest political situations to get the jokes. In 2007, the Pew Research Center likened the content of the show to a cable news program, as well as talk radio.
Stewart’s Crossfire appearance led to Crossover. Stewart’s 2004 appearance on CNN’s Crossfire to promote his book America (The Book) chastised the program for “hurting America” and the hosts, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlsen, for “being partisan hacks who aren’t fulfilling their journalistic responsibilities” and described the program as dishonest and ‘theater’.” That twelve minute segment, described by writers as a “takedown,” created an online frenzy. CNET noted more than 670,000 downloads from iFilm.com (this was the pre-YouTube era) in just a few days—more than actually had viewed the program. It was a career defining moment for Stewart and transformed him from comedian to commentator.
The show leverages online and social platforms forums. As noted by Peter Kafka and Christina Warren, The Daily Show became as important online as it did on the air. As the internet and social media expanded, so did the use of clips online as well as entire episodes being uploaded to Comedy Central’s website or its parent company Viacom. And, unlike traditional and cable networks, Viacom proactively uses a “multi-platform strategy to sustain growth.” Online and social platforms have been a primary focus for increasing audience share and revenue.
While a significant era of The Daily Show comes to a close with John Stewart’s recently announced departure from the program, the influence of what Stewart and his team built will continue to influence media trends and how news is consumed for years to come.