Ypulse Interview: Jake Sasseville, Late Night Republic

jakesassevilleToday’s Ypulse Interview is with Jake Sasseville, 24 year-old host of “Late Night Republic.” Jake first flashed on to the Ypulse radar back in 2008 when his earlier Gen Y riff on late night programming “The Edge with Jake Sasseville” debuted on more than 40 ABC affiliates and he first started turning heads (and winning brands) with his bold personality and equally dynamic approach to product integration. Clearly, we suspected, this was a youth entrepreneur to watch…

And watch they have. Last month, Jake launched his latest late-night project in 75 markets and was profiled by Ad Age, reg. required, for winning out over Leno, Conan and the like as Procter & Gamble’s platform of choice to promote Pringles Xtreme crisps. Below, we catch up with Jake to hear more about this new venture, his winning formula and what it takes to reach Gen Y audiences today.

Ypulse: How did you first get interested in the talk show business? What lessons did you learn starting out?

Jake Sasseville: Well, I actually didn’t start in TV if I’m honest with you. I started out as a magician learning how to influence people, hopefully make them laugh and certainly get a lot of rejection. I got a lot of rejection as a magician… mainly because I used to mess up my tricks a lot. But I started in Maine at 13 years-old and I would go to restaurants and shakedown the owner to hire me for $60 an hour to do walk-around magic while their customers would wait for their food.

So, that’s how it began. And then I realized I wanted to do more than magic and have more impact, so I used that money that I made as a magician to invest in a local access TV show at 14 and 15 years old. That’s how the dream started and I wasn’t really expecting it go anywhere. As time progressed though and I became more interested in working with brands and creating something that meant something to me, the people that were working on it, and also my audience, which happens also to be my generation, it grew from there.

YP: How do you think your breakthrough would have been different if you were starting out today with platforms like YouTube?

JS: It’s an interesting question because to be honest with you even though we’ve been working on the national stage for three years in various capacities, this is the first year where we’ve actually heavily invested in new media and digital.

What does that say? That says that when 21-year-old Jake was going around Hollywood back in 2005 and 2006 and pitching to all of these networks, he kept being told by the white-haired executives who program television to put his stuff on YouTube and kept saying to them, ‘I don’t want to be like everybody else. I don’t want to put myself on YouTube because no YouTube hire is on Late Night. Period.’ And so this obviously annoyed a lot of people…

But the reason I’m telling you this is because everyone goes on their own individual path and my path probably wouldn’t have been that different if I started 10 years later. Even though people think I would have been using digital and YouTube and all that, I didn’t really use it back [in 04 when YouTube was first getting popular]. I wanted to figure out how to be a late-night talk show host, not a guy with an internet show. So I figured out the business of television first and how to monetize it and how to do it on my own volition and now I’m figuring out the digital aspects to be able to support it.

YP: On that topic of monetizing, can you explain your approach to integrating advertisers into your content? What type of value does this add for your audience compared with traditional advertising?

JS: Well, initially we were just blatantly putting [the advertisers] into the show. Back on “The Edge,” for example, we had Overstock.com as an advertiser and would literally spend 30 seconds of the show with me finding the biggest thing on Overstock.com I could order for $2.95 because that was the price of shipping. There was no other redeeming factors to that integration other than the integration itself and having 30 seconds devoted to Overstock. But because this generation appreciates authenticity it actually worked!

So much so that P&G-owned Pringles has signed on as our current backer on all platforms: live events like our campus music tour, the TV show, digital campaigns, PR events. With P&G it’s a little less about the integration into the show and more about working promotions of other things that we’re working on into the show. What’s been interesting with that is some of the unexpected feedback we’ve heard from across the country: a lot of viewers in this generation miss the blatant, outrageous, humorous integrations. We’ve done it both ways though—holding contests, encouraging people to create their own content and integrating content into the show itself—and we’ve found that P&G is very happy with us.

I think the strategy on a big meta level is to be very authentic and to make it personal. Really, with any integration and especially with late-night talk, the more personal it is, the more universal it is. If you let your audience in to know that this is what you have to do to make sure that you can pay the bills, they get it and they’re okay with it.  It’s when people start to try to hide it that it becomes slippery slope.

YP: How will ‘Late Night Republic’ be different than other late night shows?

JS: The reality is that late-night is comprised of 30-, 40- and 50-year-old men who film their show on the coasts in New York and LA. The shows are written by people who have been moving and shaking in entertainment and Hollywood for many years and there’s a formula to be followed. There are network executives that are approving monologues and looking at segments and all these stipulations regarding guests. This is not lending itself to creativity. This model inherently is not lending itself to success, especially with the generation that’s up late at night: College kids up on deadline, young professionals, teens who can’t sleep and are turning on the TV and looking for something to watch.

What makes ‘Late Night Republic’ different? First of all, our intention. It’s less about me and more about the people. It’s Jake and the people, it’s the ‘Republic of Late Night’ and it’s about making late-night what they want it to be. [To help do this] we’re going on a 41 city tour backed by FRS, an energy drink by Lance Armstrong, to build our audiences locally.

The goal is that by 2011 this will be the first late-night talk show to be exclusively led by and produced by the people. Honestly, I think some of the funniest people in this country are in the middle of the country and I think that their voices needs to be heard. I think these people have something to say and If I can create vehicles,and channels for these people’s voices to be heard, it’ll be tremendously successful for everyone and it will be fun.

YP: Can you elaborate on your definition of the people? Who do you see as your target audience?

JS: We found that our core audience right now is 16-24. Those are the people that are shaking us down on Facebook, attending our events, loving our college music show, watching the TV show and commenting on it afterward on Facebook and chatting with me in real-time when I go online. What’s really cool about [this generation and that dynamic] is because we’re still in production and post-production I’m actually able to specifically include their ideas and comments in the show. Obviously we can’t do it for every single person, but people have really good ideas.

Eventually I’d like to move [the 16-24 mark] up to 34, but for a brand purpose and in terms of where we skew I’m very happy with 16 to 24. I think it’s a very powerful and very aspirational demo.

YP: What sort of common mistakes do you see from brands attempting to connect with youth?

JS: I think the fundamental misconception that [misguided brands and network executives make] is inherently believing that the audience they want to reach, my audience, is stupid. This leads them to suggest that I do things to dumb it down. And while certainly the show is catering to a certain demo and we’re not an academic-type show, they fundamentally miss the mark by assuming that people aren’t smart. They create formats that are the same for every show and content that just isn’t representative of where this generation actually is.

If you keep creating content for people thinking that they’re not smart eventually they will learn to accept that content and it will be proven true that they are indeed not smart. That’s why what we’re doing is elevating a little bit and saying not only do we think they’re smart, but want them as allies in the process.

That’s what we learned from Conan when he was ousted out: NBC made a massive mistake throwing Conan out and then made an even more massive mistake putting Leno in at 10. What ultimately happened? 18- to 34-year-olds stood up in droves for Conan as King Coco. Granted, they could have used that six months prior, but what that showed us at Jake Inc. is that there is a generation, a tuned-in generation, that is willing to stand up for something if they have something to stand up for.

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