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Up all Night: How Late Night Shows Factor into Music Promotion

4 minute read | March 2014

By David Bakula, SVP Client Development, Nielsen Entertainment

Late night TV is an entertainment battleground, and when it comes to engaging audiences, hosts and networks pull out all the stops—interviews, parodies, games, sketch comedy skits, etc. However, there’s no denying the importance of music performances and artist guest appearances, and fans continue to tune in for this critical element of late night TV programming.

TV networks have an array of performance options, including guest (breakout or seasoned artist), genre, and set-up (acoustic or full band), to consider when attracting an audience. For a label, management or artist, however, the goal of a late night TV performance is simple: maximize the artist’s exposure and increase the revenue opportunity. And to do this, it’s vital to understand the key elements that create an effective appearance for on-screen exposure and how it can impact an artist’s overall success.


Appearing on late night talk shows can benefit artists significantly when they release new music—or shortly beforehand. These appearances help artists maximize their exposure during a very critical part of their song promotion. As Nielsen discussed at SXSW, the first eight to 12 weeks after a song is released is an optimal time for artists to gain exposure through television appearances (although some artists opt to do it even earlier). In many cases, artists use the time leading up to a formal release to drum up awareness and traction through streaming, Web activity and social media.

Up-and-coming artist Lorde has certainly proved her marketing savvy over the past year. The New Zealand singer-songwriter performed on late night shows hosted by Jimmy Fallon and David Letterman late last year and benefitted from increased on-demand streaming and Web activity after each appearance. More than 1.7 million viewers tuned in to Late Night with Jimmy Fallon on Oct. 2, 2013, when Lorde performed her single “Royals”. During the week of her performance (Sept. 30, 2013-Oct. 6, 2013), the song had over 7.5 million on-demand streams (up 28%) and her Wikipedia page had more than 504,000 views (up 66%). Meanwhile, more than 3 million viewers tuned in when she appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman on Nov. 14, 2013, resulting in over 6.4 million on-demand streams of ”Royals” and over 420,000 views (up 8%) of her Wikipedia page during the week of Nov. 11-17, 2013.


So exactly how many night owls tune into late night shows? During the 2012/2013 season, 60.2 million Americans had their TV sets on during late night (Monday-Friday 11pm-4am). During this season, females accounted for 54 percent of the late night audience with TV sets in use. Although the majority of viewers were primarily white, African-American viewers constitute 21 percent of the audience and Hispanic viewers made up 13 percent of the audience. As is the case with most TV appearances, these programs reach a broad group of consumers, including some who are not traditional music consumers. The power of TV to reach a wide spectrum of consumers continues to provide the exposure that is critical to success in the early part of a song or artist’s marketing campaign.


While no one is likely to snub their nose at an appearance during the week, there’s no late-night showcase like Saturday night. For example, when Eminem took the stage on Saturday Night Live on Nov. 2, 2013, to perform “Berzerk” (with guest DJ Rick Ross) and “Survival” featuring Skylar Grey, the performance came more than eight weeks after the release of “Berzerk”. It was a pivotal time frame for Eminem, and “Berzerk” saw a 93 percent increase in downloads the week after the performance. The song has also amassed more than 49 million total streams* since its release as of March 24, 2014. Meanwhile sales of “Survival” spiked more than 139,000 tracks the week after the show, a 246 percent increase over the previous week. And since then, it has accumulated 28 million total streams.

So despite the hour, late night is a powerful time for TV, offering artists a unique stage that’s prime for reaching a wide audience that stays tuned in to see musical performances. But late night isn’t just for performing music. Some artists have entertained in other ways. Artists like Lady Gaga and Justin Timberlake have stepped away from their bands to make us laugh, performing in heartwarming and highly memorable comedy sketches. And, although TV is a proven medium for reaching the masses, truly understanding the big picture of how all marketing efforts affect sales, airplay and streaming is the best way to propel an artist or song to its fullest potential.

*Includes audio and video programmed, on-demand, and tethered streams from YouTube/VEVO, Spotify, Yahoo, AOL, Cricket, MediaNet, rdio, Rhapsody, Slacker, and Zune.

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