Since 1999, “The Daily Show with John Stewart” has been a staple of American pop culture. The comedy program rose to its phenom status during the 2000 Presidential Election, and over the next decade became a more trusted news source than Fox News among Democrats and MSNBC among Republicans. “The Daily Show,” along with the “Colbert Report,” provided Comedy Central with a one-two punch of political satire like the country had never seen.
But that powerful combination on cable news might be going out of style. Stewart announced in February that he would be leaving the show by the end of 2015. South African comedian and short-lived “Daily Show” contributor Trevor Noah was announced as Stewart’s successor.
With Colbert leaving at the end of 2014, the landscape of Comedy Central’s lineup, and maybe the outlook of cable TV, is rapidly changing. More and more viewers are turning to HBO, Amazon Prime, and Netflix for their TV needs.
Network TV, like NBC, CBS, and ABC, “remains surprisingly strong, maintaining impressive operating margins and steady growth,” according to Greg Satell of Forbes magazine. Cable TV networks, on the other hand, are starting to feel the winds of change.
“House of Cards” is one of the most popular programs today, and it nabbed nine Primetime Emmy nominations. Even Cable shows like “Mad Men,” “True Detective,” “Downton Abbey” and “The Walking Dead” are being watched on mediums like Netflix and HBO GO. These mediums can be especially popular since On Demand TV is often easier and more accessible.
Younger viewers are starting to embrace this change. Senior Matt Marshall said, “I don’t watch TV at all. I’d rather watch Netflix or something where I can pick what episodes I want to watch, when I want to watch them. I binged 70 episodes of ‘The Office’ over spring break. I couldn’t do that on NBC.”
Traditional television is not dead by any means. According to TV Guide, 16 out of the top 20 most watched programs of 2014 are on ABC, NBC, or CBS.
Even so, these networks have to adapt. What pop culture saw as a shift from radio and television in the 1940s and 1950s was a similar change. Networks like CBS and NBC, both former radio exclusive networks, were able to make the change. MBS could not.
The future of television will be defined by viewership, and what the majority of people will watch. If people decide to flock to Trevor Noah’s “Daily Show” like they are to John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight,” then networks will have to reflect that. But if they don’t, and millions more Americans drop their cable boxes for Netflix and Hulu, then that change has to be made swiftly.