Jon Stewart's new show looks like a flop

Jon Stewart's new show looks like a flop

You may have heard that Jon Stewart has a new show on Apple TV called The Problem with Jon Stewart. The idea is that each episode focuses on a particular problem. So, for instance, earlier this month Stewart did an episode titled “The Problem with White People.” I wrote about that particular episode because Stewart begged Andrew Sullivan to appear on the show and then proceeded to call him a racist in front of his audience. Here’s Sullivan’s take on how it went.

At that point, it became clear that Stewart was not conducting a televised debate, but initiating a struggle session. The point of the session was not to discuss anything, but to further enforce the dogma he had pronounced. So I found myself in the equivalent of one of those workplace indoctrination seminars — in which any disagreement is regarded as a form of “hate” or “ignorance.” But worse: I was in a struggle session with a live mob sitting in, cheering and jeering, which Stewart led and orchestrated. For good measure, Stewart called me a racist and told me I was not “living in the same fucking country as we are,” and went on to angrily call me a “motherfucker.”

But it turns out that Stewart’s tiresome act isn’t really as appealing as it once was. The latest ratings suggest his show is something of a flop.

His Apple TV+ show, “The Problem with Jon Stewart,” which debuted in September, has failed to gain traction in its first season and lags far behind its competitors on broadcast and cable TV. Last fall, about 180,000 U.S. homes saw the show’s first episode within the first seven days, according to the measurement firm Samba TV. By the fifth episode, which aired in early March, about 40,000 U.S. homes tuned in, down 78% from the season premiere. By comparison, an episode in March of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” was seen in 844,000 U.S. homes, Samba TV says.

Stewart declined to comment, though the magazine Entertainment Weekly said the show is the No. 1 unscripted series on Apple TV+, citing sources. To date, Apple hasn’t disclosed any viewership numbers for Stewart’s show, which since its debut has aired on a sporadic schedule. According to Parrot Analytics, Stewart’s program is the eighth most in-demand talk show in the U.S., ahead of programs hosted by Ellen DeGeneres and James Corden and behind ones hosted by the likes of Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah…

Stewart fans may have had a particularly hard time settling into a viewership routine. Stewart initially released episodes on Apple every two weeks. Then he took four months off. In March, he returned from hiatus and began releasing episodes once a week. Along the way, Stewart has poked fun at the slow rollout, saying recently that it’s “like I’m an Etsy store of shows, knitting each one myself.”

Normally, a ratings flop like that would lead to some serious reconsideration of the material or the host or both. But as OutKick argued today, it’s sort of doubtful any of that matters terribly much to Apple.

Apple doesn’t care about any of these numbers. While Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Peacock and HBO Max try to capture and hold onto every subscriber, AppleTV+ is playing with house money. On Monday morning, we discussed:

Apple doesn’t need to meet a certain number of subscribers to appease internal goals. Apple makes so much money from its products — iPhones, MacBooks, AirPods — that its streaming business is a mere side project. Apple’s annual revenues are 12 times that of Netflix. This is why Apple put in the resources to promote the film “CODA” to be the first streaming service to win Best Picture, while Netflix has to focus on quantity.

Apple, which is trading at an almost $3 trillion valuation, just wants programs that make the company look progressive, pro-LGBT and all of the other corporate America buzzwords. Apple thinks Stewart helps in this regard.

I think that’s about right. No streaming service can break even producing a TV show that pays the host a substantial salary plus money for producers, editors, bookers, etc. and which only brings in 40,000 viewers a week. But Stewart, because of his long history at the Daily Show, is a special case. He’s less of a ratings bonanza and more of a corporate mascot at this point. It’s good work if you can get it, I guess.

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