What O'Brien's move means for cable

Comedian Conan O'Brien performs at the opening night of "The Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On TV Tour"


Stacey Vanek-Smith: Conan O'Brien has found a new home. The former Tonight Show host surprised fans and industry insiders yesterday when he announced plans for a new show on TBS. Marketplace's Amy Scott has more.

Amy Scott: Robert Thompson teaches television and pop culture at Syracuse University. He says a lot of students have no idea where TBS is on the cable dial.

Robert Thompson: And once Conan starts there, I think they will find out.

With money coming in from advertising and subscriber fees, cable networks are a small but growing threat to broadcast television. Thompson says more and more hit shows, like Mad Men and Damages, are on cable.

Thompson: It's true that I think Conan takes a symbolic step down by going to TBS. But it really may be more of a step into the future.

But even the biggest hits on cable have much smaller audiences. Bill Carroll is with the Katz Television Group:

Bill Carroll: For the foreseeable future, broadcast is still going to be the dominant medium, in the sense that more people are going to watch broadcast television.

For O'Brien, the biggest risk might be going head-to-head with The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central. Syracuse's Robert Thompson says college students like Conan O'Brien. They'd take a bullet for Jon Stewart.

In New York, I'm Amy Scott for Marketplace.

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.


I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...

Sustainability Coverage

  • The Kendeda Fund
  • Wealth & Poverty Coverage

  • The Ford Foundation