The Karl Stefanovic Phenomenon – why clickbait doesn’t rate

In TV, if no one is taking about you, you’re dead.
Clarkey For Kids Sports Lunch
This Herald story on Karl Stefanovic boosting Today Show ratings is a beat-up. Sunrise have Today up against the wall and they’re tickling them till it hurts. But the continuing popularity of Karl in the online sphere – rather than on TV – proves that Karl is cool in a way that defines many public personalities these days; we won’t switch them on but we will click on them, again and again.
Karl is the televisual equivalent of that friend or colleague who is fun tower firstly but too tiring to hang out with. He’s worth a chat or a cheap laugh, but never a full conversation.
Does Karl care? I doubt it. (Smug!) While he goes about his work, the internet has transformed Karl into a sound-bite factory, gif magic, and perfect YouTube fodder. Even his unassuming, regular Aussie bloke tweets are shareable gold.
That said, he’s a twitstorm in a teacup.
Any sordid joke or witty remark is only hot property for a few short days. The Herald and Telegraph know this and hence, they will fashion a homepage story around his madcap behaviour at any opportunity. The traffic flows into the website, amplified largely by social sharing. And if there is a chance to rehash a popular Karl moment from a year ago, they’ll give it another run. Because while they peak early, these stories can live on forever.
But does the media’s enthusiasm for Karl’s bottled boganism contribute to TV ratings? No. It’s a trivial, nauseating cycle of funny-moments-becoming-YouTube-hits-becoming-news-stories that has been going on for years without the Today Show receiving any significant bump. Even the latest Herald story with Karl in the headline is mostly about how Sunrise romped home with their best lead in years. His name is there because that’s what people click on. Same goes for sex, p0rn and iPhone.
Today has not enjoyed anything like the bump in popularity you might expect with the global enthusiasm for Karl’s latest wear-a-suit-for-a-year stunt. The host’s joke with the Dalai Lama achieved even greater notoriety and has been  more than two million times on YouTube.
In fact, Karl’s top ten most popular clips on YouTube have been viewed more than 15 million times. His Twitter figures are, by most comparisons, extraordinary: 250,000+ followers, 2500 tweets. Scores of retweets follow each mundane observation. (See examples below)
I have set up many TV personalities on Twitter and I’ve told each one of them to just be themselves. For Karl, being himself – his plain speaking, jocular, slightly inappropriate self –  resonates with so many people, you’d be forgiven for thinking Karl was a seriously popular star with a compelling or hilarious feed. Decide for yourself.
People seem to love him regardless.
A friend of mine pointed out that it was not always this way. A few years back, Karl was widely loathed and even worse, ignored. But since the host made headlines around the world for being drunk on-air and trying to crack a dad joke with a Tibetan Buddhist leader, Aussies have embraced Karl as one of their own and will now happily rave about his latest larrikin exploit.
I can’t stand the man, yet even I have pulled out my phone at dinner parties to show friends the latest reason I can’t stand him.
He’s a middle-aged man of the age, a mate who’ll hold your longneck while you take a wizz, Australia’s Kramer – a loathsome, offensive brute, yet I can’t look away.
It’s clear that the only winner in Karl’s situation is Karl’s personal profile. His appeal is in unexpected moments that shock or surprise viewers for a 30-second clip. Sure, the Today Show appears in every clip and gif but as the moments are unscripted, Channel 9 can’t capitalise or fabricate this ineffable brilliance. If I was them I’d be seriously frustrated. But the potential is there and that’s why other TV bosses should pay attention to this phenomenon.
The idea that ratings are the only thing that matters will soon fade . Television audiences will continue to shrink and TV shows that resonate online will
a) attract the next generation of viewers and,
b) get the advertising dollars that are will move online when we are all streaming shows.
Essentially, views will count for more than viewers.
Some networks are already acting on this. Certain shows are being driven to produce more shareable content and are tailoring segments to online audiences – think John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight, Jimmy Fallon, or The Voice.
Personalities will still need to be social-savvy, but most are nowadays, and it’s the producers that need to think differently; How will this story translate to online viewers who can scroll through it in ten seconds? Will it work for a commuter watching live on a smartphone? Would I share this segment? How are we using social networks to draw viewers into the next episode?
I didn’t see your cliffhanger last week, sorry. I don’t know who is in the final four. And I’m not even seeing your teases in the cricket or in the 6pm news. I’m busy watching reruns of Karl embarrassing himself in 2010.
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