Kanye West, Jay Leno and the Scatter Market [Updated]

Last Updated Sep 15, 2009 12:13 PM EDT

[UPDATE: "The Jay Leno Show" attracted almost 18 million viewers last night, expanding on its lead-in, the finale of "America's Got Talent," which had 15.2 million viewers in its latter half.]

The cliche "Timing is everything" may never have been better illustrated than in last night's appearance by Kanye West on the debut episode of NBC's five-night-a-week "Jay Leno Show." West had long ago been announced as an opening night guest, appearing as a musical act, and not as someone who planned on being on the wrong side of the confessional, with the right Rev. Jay Leno sitting in the other chair. But the duo's discussion of West's legendary diss the night before of Taylor Swift on MTV's Video Music Awards was great television, in all its voyeuristic glory. In that ability to change the direction of the show on-the-fly, the Leno show may have unearthed in interesting business opportunity, if the people who actually sell the ads can turn the tables as quickly as Leno and his producers did.

(By the way, whatever you thought of the rest of the show, Leno completely delivered during the West segment, not only by getting West to chat, but by asking him how his late mother would have reacted if she'd seen what he had done. Leno packed the three minutes with maximum emotional punch.)

The business opportunity lies in the show's unique ability to capitalize on headline-making, and yet completely trivial, news events, which as The New York Times' Alessandra Stanley pointed out today, wasn't intended to be the show's mission. West's appearance on the show was an act of fate this time around, but you could easily see the affable Leno playing the Rev. role again, making the chair beside him during the interview segments the first stop for beleaguered celebs. Those who traffic in live (or almost live) TV -- mostly in news programming -- have long lamented their inability to capitalize on huge news events, because the ad time has often been sold long before, and/or the subject matter, such as the Columbine shootings or 9/11, is far too dicey to attract advertisers.

Leno's show isn't like that, so one of the two problems is already beaten. The other might be fixable if networks are willing to introduce some true just-in-time inventory into the ad sales mix. Call it über-scatter if you will, since rather than being like most scatter inventory, which is sold relatively close to airtime, this would be sold right before it. Particularly if the show can learn to cultivate these pop culture events, it might turn into something. While NBC got lucky last night, the ones who truly got lucky were the show's advertisers, which, even if paying at the top of the program's alleged $55,000 to $75,000 rate for a 30-second spot, got more than their money's worth. NBC left money on the table.

Of course, there's a risk here. If a spot or two is held so close to airtime, depending on the state of the ad market, it could result in a fire sale, but creating a little just-in-time inventory sometimes for a show like this would be a first step into some TV ad sales working on a model that more truly represents what the programming is delivering. Right now, too much of the market moves largely on speculation of how a particular show might perform months and months out. In the case of the "Leno" show, even if its ratings disappoint when compared to other 10 p.m. broadcast fare, it will likely have the biggest audience in the entire genre, giving celebs the chance to reach more people than any other venue out there. You can't do that on "CSI." You could've seen this same confessional playing out on "Oprah," or "Larry King Live", but network primetime, even with its diminished stature, is still a different ball game. Ratings will spike when these things happen, and NBC should learn how to maximize revenue, when they do.

OK, enough crackpot theorizing.

Previous coverage of "The Jay Leno Show" on BNET Media: