Reach a Weekly Audience of 13 Million People on a Pizza Budget

Posted by Chris Langathianos

Dec 12, 2013 10:00:00 AM

Katsos-LogoLessons in Passion, from The Steve Katsos Show

Agencies and clients work hard to build their brands. We work tirelessly. We strategize. We develop media plans. We allocate marketing dollars. And we expect results.

But what’s one of the most consistent traits of successful brands and the people who run them? Passion. Where does passion fit into the marketer’s dialect? Here’s a little story about late night television, passion, and a never-die attitude.

Without a doubt you’ve heard of Conan O’Brien, David Letterman, Steve Katsos, and Jimmy Kimmel.

Wait. What? Steve Katsos?

Yes, Steve Katsos. The Steve Katsos Show, a New England-based, late-night entertainment show, airs in over 13 million homes weekly in the United States, New Zealand, Australia and Europe. All told, the show airs in 15 countries.

sk2The weekly program, hosted by Steve, is produced on Tuesday nights by a team of 40 to 60 people in Arlington, Massachusetts and features New England’s best comedic and musical talent. Its weekly production budget is $0.

Did you say zero? Zilch? Nada?

Yes, according to Steve, no money is spent on the filming, production, and editing of the weekly program. “I am lucky to have partnered up with ACMi, a non-profit studio in Arlington, MA,” he says. “They make it possible for me to provide the show to the world using dedicated friends and volunteers. I do pay to feed the crew out of my own pocket. I also edit the show on my home computer, so, you know, it is really a passion for me.”

All of this comes together for the price of dinner?

“I've spent over $17,000 on pizza in four years,” Katsos adds.

According to my calculations, that’s $170 per production week to potentially reach 13 million homes. I don’t think I have a client who would say no to this sort of reach with that size budget.

I’ve been following Steve Katsos’ journey online for a couple of years, and I wanted to find out more about New England’s late-night television host.

“I’m an average guy who works for a living,” Katsos says. “I believe that everyone should do want they want to do, even if it is just one night a week. On Tuesday nights, I host an international TV show for creative people in New England to get their art out to the world.”

Television is not new to Katsos. He hosted a show when he attended Arlington High School, and another one during his years at Framingham State. The Steve Katsos Show was his master’s thesis project at Emerson College, and is now going into its fifth season.

I went on to ask about the strategy for the show when he created it. “The plan was to refine the show on a weekly basis, just as I did with my college newspaper,” Steve explained. “At the end of the year, you can really see the results. We've made strides every year on the show since we started. We also planned to send it out to as many places as we could, town-by-town. Last year we hit 15 countries during the same month. It is great to see an idea actually start to work. A strategy must be maintained, but also needs the ability to change to be successful. While our current success is based only on expansion and better promotion of New England artists, eventually money will become a big part of that.”

Especially given the fact that there is currently no production budget, 15 countries per month sounds pretty significant.

“No other show on late night can say they do that. They are all owned by million-dollar corporations that get paid to maintain a business and ratings. No one has used sheer will and good intentions without a budget to create a quality late night show before. Not one that hits 15 countries on television.”

"We are," Katsos adds, "real people who fight to keep a show going for artists and we don't need to be paid for it.”

Katsos appears to run his television show in much the same way a good corporate leader would. He surrounds himself with people he trusts to make the right decisions for the sake of the program. Delegating to the strengths of the team is crucial to curating the right content.

“(The team) thinks about what the show is supposed to do,” he says. “I use a comedian, Mike Koutrobis, to help pick comics and a musician, Mick Greenwood, to help pick musical guests for the show. They have a better feel for each industry and who is really out there trying to make a difference. Hope Orfanos has helped me book interviews with authors, actors, and artists by letting them submit materials to us for consideration.”

Social media has proven to be an effective tool for The Steve Katsos Show. Its Facebook page has over 15,000 likes and links to live streams of shows as well as past content.

“Social media is a great tool for someone like me. I can send out updates for the show, serve video and audio clips, and show pictures. I have to put a lot of time into the show to update social media, so this is like having a second full-time job.”

Katsos-PatrickHosting an international, late-night talk show is pretty interesting stuff, and being in front of that many people on a weekly basis comes with a certain level of notoriety. I asked Steve how he dealt with it all, and he replied with a funny, anecdotal story.

“I work behind the scenes in sports television as a sound tech. I've been doing this for about 18 years. Usually, I wear a baseball cap and go about my business with no interruptions. One day, I was picking up all my gear on the field at Fenway Park and a man yelled from the stands, 'Hey TV guy!' I waved and began to walk away. I thought he was drunk. Then he yelled, 'I watch your show on TV!' I turned towards him. I had not been recognized in public for my show, yet. I said, 'Thank you! A fan! I have a fan!' In four years only one person has ever recognized me in public. Maybe this show isn't working after all. And I'm pretty sure he was drunk.”

Well, after four seasons and the start of a fifth, clearly something is working. I asked Steve what he thought would make season five different from previous years. Again, he answered with that classic, self-deprecating sense of humor: “I'm older and fatter, and I have less hair now. Not even my wife wants to look at me. I guess you could say that this season will be the hardest to maintain viewership. Good thing the artists are still coming!”

But the passion remains. This is a show that was built on passion.

“Each person has a set of natural abilities and skills learned in school or work. I may host a silly cable access show, but this is what I was meant to do.” Katsos adds to that thought: “I was meant to help others get their art out into the world. I know that, because this is what makes me happy. Everything I've learned to do in my life, every experience I have had, has led me to this project. I feel that this is my way to contribute to society. Everyone should find a way to contribute to society. It is the only way for us to make the future better for others.”

Steve got me thinking. I thought about what I do and what I love, and then I thought about the clients I have worked with over the years. There are a number of them that always seem to have the most fun, achieve the most success and, in turn, spread a contagious strain of passion onto their colleagues and even their agency partners.

There’s a famous quote by Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of the iconic Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream brand: “if it’s not fun, why do it?”

I believe that those who do what they love — in work and life — achieve the most success. Sometimes the biggest successes are not measured in an annual report. How does Steve Katsos measure success?

“I want this to serve as inspiration for others. I hosted a TV show in school, because I loved it. I stopped doing it, because I thought there was no way for me to make it happen as an adult. Then I learned something important. Something where dreams come true. You can begin, again.”

For local listings and to donate to the pizza fund, visit

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