Can Chelsea Handler Change Late-Night TV by Jumping to Netflix?

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Chelsea Handler is ready to change the landscape of late-night television again.

The unfiltered host -- whose show "Chelsea Lately" airs weeknights at 11 p.m. on Comcast's (NASDAQ: CMCSK  )  E! -- told SiriusXM's Howard Stern in a Wednesday interview that she was likely to find a new home for her show when her contract expires later this year.

"They don't know what they're doing [at E!]. They have no ideas. It's a failure," she told the radio host. 

It's not Handler's dissatisfaction with her current TV home that's the major news. She has talked about her disdain for having to talk about the Justin Beibers and various Kardashians of the world previously. Instead it was the soon-to-be free agent saying that she wasn't interested in switching networks, but instead was intrigued by taking her show to "something like Netflix  (NASDAQ: NFLX  ) where people can watch her show whenever they want," reported.

Who is the late-night king now?

Since Johnny Carson retired in 1992 there has been no real king of late night. Jay Leno might have had the most viewers on "The Tonight Show," but David Letterman always felt like the host the cool kids watched. Bit players like Arsenio Hall had their moments in the sun and tons of pretenders have failed miserably -- a club that includes Chevy Chase and Magic Johnson as its most spectacularly awful examples.

The late-night audience, while still lucrative, has become fractured, making it harder for anyone to claim dominance but perhaps easier for new contenders to stake out a piece of the pie. In addition to new "Tonight Show" host Jimmy Fallon and Letterman, you have  "Jimmy Kimmel Live" on Walt Disney's (NYSE: DIS  )  ABC, Conan O'Brien on Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX  ) TBS, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on Viacom's (NASDAQ: VIA  ) Comedy Central, and Andy Cohen's "Watch What Happens Live" on Bravo (also owned by Comcast). There are also a number of shows that air after midnight, including NBC's Late Night with Seth Meyers and "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson."

Does Handler on Netflix make sense?

Handler does not have the ratings of any of the network shows nor is she is popular as Stewart or Cohen. Still she has a devoted following that has made her books best-sellers and her comedy tours sellouts. Though she only averaged 571,000 viewers in 2013, according to Advertising Age, she still pulled in $30 million for her network between January and October of that year.

She also has viewers with a median age of 42.8 putting her audience in the same age bracket as her cable compatriots -- much younger than Letterman at 58.9, Kimmel at 54.1, and Fallon at 53.1. Those younger viewers matter as "Conan" on TBS took in $67.4 million in ad dollars during the above-mentioned period with only 808,000 viewers while Kimmel took in $77.3 million despite having 2.4 million viewers, AdAge reported.

Handler's audience may be small but it is loyal, supporting not only her but a number of the comedians who appear on her show. It's reasonable to assume that many of them would follow her to Netflix or watch her show if they are already subscribers. With a Netflix streaming subscription costing $7.99 a month, if she could bring in 250,000 new subscribers she would net the network $23,970,000 in new revenue. 

Netflix has avoided taking ads on its show -- but it has never had a program like the one Handler does. If the company was willing to sell ads or even PBS-style sponsorships, it's reasonable to assume the host could bring much of the $30 million in ad revenue she brings to E!.

Is Netflix interested?

According to its 2013 annual report, Netflix said it plans to spend close to $3 billion on content in 2014 and around $6.2 billion on content over the next 36 months. The company has specifically said it's not interested in live programming but Handler specifically told Stern she was interested in doing a show that her fans can watch at their convenience. 

Can Handler and Netflix become the new kings?

Handler is exactly the type of performer Netflix needs to not only grow its audience but keep existing subscribers happy. Like Stern she is a performer with a loyal audience that will follow her. And again like Stern she is an artist who bristles at having management involved in her show.

On Netflix Handler would not only bring her audience, she would also bring the talented crew of comedians who appear on or write for her show. Though Handler's company has produced starring vehicles for some of these acts, the only one currently airing is E!'s "Hello Ross" hosted by "Chelsea Lately" regular Ross Matthews. if she worked for Netflix she would likely have an easier path to getting more diverse content on the air.

Handler has already shaken up late-night TV by ending the male dominance and varying the tried and true Carson format. On Netflix she would have free rein to create something truly different and her fans would likely pay to see that happen. 

And how can you  profit on this?

You know cable's going away. But do you know how to profit? There's $2.2 trillion out there to be had. Currently, cable grabs a big piece of it. That won't last. And when cable falters, three companies are poised to benefit. Click here for their names. Hint: They're not Netflix, Google, and Apple.

Read/Post Comments (3) | Recommend This Article (0)

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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On March 07, 2014, at 12:24 PM, AceInMySleeve wrote:

    That's thinking out of the box.. although you say you read all her books so for you it's thinking inside the box perhaps.

    Netflix doesn't want to live TV, but Conan isn't live. Most TV isn't live. Nevertheless, 95% of the value of a chelsea handler episode would be gone in a week, and Netflix stays away from that simply because their platform's competitive strength is the longer time tail.

    So I don't think they'd be in a rush per se, if the bidding for her content were high. But it all comes down to the numbers and I don't think I can make a guess as to the full picture.

  • Report this Comment On March 07, 2014, at 12:26 PM, AceInMySleeve wrote:

    I am looking for examples like this of how Netflix can expand beyond their current perceived niche because I do think it's gonna happen. When analysts plot out numbers they fail to include that 'magic' potential for Netflix to actually evolve their business model based on the near-monopolistic strength of their platform.

  • Report this Comment On April 01, 2014, at 12:40 PM, hennrymark70 wrote:

    Netflix is one of the first companies that successfully adapted its business model to the switch from traditional to digital media. Today, it is a major internet TV provider in the US, and, with its share price up 285% year to date, ranks as 2013’s hottest momentum stock

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Daniel B. Kline

Daniel B. Kline is an accomplished writer and editor who has worked for the Microsoft's Finance app and The Boston Globe, where he wrote for the paper and ran the business desk. His latest book "Worst Ideas Ever" (Skyhorse) can be purchased at bookstores everywhere.

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