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.
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 (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.