(Note: This story has been updated from a previous report.)
Big changes are coming for Conan, the host's nightly hourlong TBS talk show, according to TBS executives. What those are, exactly, are still to be determined. On Thursday, Turner CEO John Martin told The Wrap that Conan will be shifting to a weekly format at some point. But later Thursday TBS president Kevin Reilly walked back Martin's comments, releasing a statement saying that the network currently has no plans to change Conan's format or frequency, but conceding that going to once a week is a possibility.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Reilly made it sound like the network is trying to figure out how reconcile O'Brien's popularity on the internet — some YouTube clips from his show have over 30 million views — with the low ratings his show gets (it averages around 500,000 viewers an episode) and reallocate his resources to where the audience is. This probably means shifting to some kind of digital-first presence.
"He's going to continue to have a daily relationship with an audience," Reilly told THR. "I don't know whether that will be on a number of different services, including TBS. That's the part we're trying to figure out; how does that all work together?"
Reilly said that more details about the changes coming to Conan will be announced in the spring as they're nailed down.
There are a few good reasons for a switch to a weekly format, should it happen. Conan has been spending a lot of time on the road, visiting places like Cuba, Berlin and South Korea, and Martin says the episodes from foreign locales have been stronger creatively and ratings-wise. Switching to a weekly format would make traveling easier and play to the show's strengths.
TBS has also had great success in the weekly format with Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, which has quickly became a reliable source of viral videos since its premiere last year. TBS thinks re-angling Conan to fit that slot would be good for the show.
Finally, Conan just doesn't do very well in ratings in the crowded late-night landscape. O'Brien is more popular online these days — his YouTube channel has 4.4 million subscribers, approximately 3 million more than The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, which usually bests Conan in TV ratings. Reilly said that O'Brien is the most popular late-night host among young people, who barely watch him on TV.
A weekly show would be a big change for Conan O'Brien, who has been a daily late-night host since he took over Late Night in 1993 — with one very famous interlude where he wasn't.
TBS is committed to Conan through 2018, and Reilly said that O'Brien's contract will be renewed.
Conan airs Monday through Thursday at 11/10c — for now — on TBS.