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Here’s Why Stephen Colbert’s Late Night Ratings Are Tanking

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Though it started strongThe Late Show With Stephen Colbert has been coming in third in the late-night ratings. Conservative pundits say it’s because Colbert’s show is “too liberal“, and even a Salon column says the show is too smart for Republicans. Of course, being a smart, left-wing show didn’t  hurt The Colbert Report any… so what’s the deal? Is Colbert just too progressive for mainstream America… or is it actually tanking because CBS doesn’t stream its shows through services like Hulu or Netflix?

Both Fallon and Kimmel are readily available on Hulu — Colbert’s show can only be found on CBS’ proprietary service, CBS All Access, for $6 a month, which includes ad breaks. Comparatively, Hulu is $8 a month with ads, $12 per month without — and Hulu includes programming from all other major networks, plus cable channels. By trying to carve their own niche, CBS is shooting themselves in the foot.

Colbert’s audience is traditionally younger and hipper — the exact audience who abandoned broadcast television for streaming long ago. And it’s foolish to think that Colbert’s fans aren’t actually watching his show — they’re just doing so in a much more convenient way for them — piracy.

Unfortunately for CBS, pirating torrents and tube sites aren’t monitored by Nielsen ratings, and pirates of Colbert’s show are more likely “superfans” who would would legally stream when given the option, but balk at paying $6 a month for one channel, for one show in particular — particularly when CBS programming has historically been available for free on the air.

Aside from CBS All Access and a YouTube channel of clips, there’s no other way to watch Colbert’s show or improve his ratings. Sure, none of the three big late night shows sell episodes on iTunes, but both Fallon and Kimmel have their own official free apps. The best Colbert has to offer is the excellent, but brief, podcast series made to talk about the process of creating the show — a podcast which ended before The Late Show even launched.

Is it any wonder that Stephen Colbert’s ratings are suffering when he goes from a huge official online presence for The Colbert Report to, well, basically squat for The Late Show. If CBS wants to turn the ratings dive around, Colbert doesn’t need to be any less smart or progressive, the network just needs to suck it up, stop trying to make CBS All Access happen and join the rest of the TV world on Hulu.