Conan O'Brien hosted "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" for 15 years between September 1993 until February 2009. Three months later, on June 1, he finally slid into his dream job as host of "The Tonight Show." At the same time, Jay Leno shifted into a weird prime time show that no one really knew what to make of. Unfortunately for NBC, both new shows performed poorly in terms of ratings.
In January 2010, just seven months later, NBC informed Conan that it had decided to bring Jay back. Conan was, understandably, livid. He refused to go to any other NBC time slot and demanded.
Furious Conan fans organized under the shared mantra, "Team Coco." I don't recall there being a "Team NBC" or "Team Leno."
After a tense negotiation that apparently took several hours a day every day for two straight weeks, a resolution was reached. According to the terms of the deal, NBC paid Conan and his team a total of $45 million. Of that amount, Conan personally received $32 million. His executive producer Jeff Ross received $4.5 million. The remaining $7.5 million was distributed to Conan's staff. Finally, Conan was free to seek a new television deal, but nothing could be broadcast before September 1, 2010.
Soon after the deal was reached, Conan embarked on a 30-city live tour called "The Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour." And in the meantime, his representatives fielded new television offers. The offer Conan selected came from TBS.
Conan's TBS offer came with a $12 million annual salary to host what was titled simply, "Conan.". The show ultimately produced 1,510 episodes over 11 seasons before ending in June 2021.
Other than the $12 million annual salary, Conan's team wisely requested and received an important deal point in their negotiations with TBS. While working for TBS, Conan actually retained ownership of the content his show produced. Sort of like owning your masters in the music business. Therefore, Conan was free to share celebrity interviews, skits and musical performances on the Team Coco YouTube channel while earning the lion's share of ad revenue generated.
As of this writing, the Team Coco YouTube channel has a little under 8.5 million subscribers and the channel has generated an impressive 8.2 billion video views. The channel's most viewed video, with 130 million views, is a clip of the band Disturbed performing a cover of "The Sound of Silence" during a March 2016 appearance on "Conan":
Why was owning his content this a wise decision?
According to the Wall Street Journal, Team Coco earned $10 million from YouTube revenue in 2021. The channel generates around a billion views per year.
YouTube wasn't the only content medium Conan decided to explore. In November 2018, Conan launched a podcast called "Conan O'Brien Needs A Friend." Team Coco subsequently launched a dozen additional podcasts. Today the podcast arm of Team Coco generates nearly 200 million episode downloads per year, 16 million per month. Roughly 10 million monthly downloads come from the main "Friend" podcast.
And now Conan is cashing out.
According to that same previously-mentioned WSJ article, Conan just sold his content empire – Team Coco and the podcast network – to SiriusXM for…
Conan was the majority owner of the business, with his producing partner Jeff Ross owning a minority stake. Conan will also receive a 5-year talent contract with Sirius to compensate him for future shows and to develop new podcasts under a Team Coco channel for the service.
Sirius will earn 100% of the money generated from Team Coco's YouTube channel, but Conan will actually retain ownership of the content.
Between his previous NBC earnings, the TBS deal and this new business sale, we now estimate Conan O'Brien's net worth to be $200 million. An impressive amount, but not quite half as much as Jay Leno's net worth, which we estimate at $450 million.
Speaking of Jay. It's no secret that Conan was absolutely enraged at Jay for many years. It's been 13 years since that insane reshuffling at NBC. Conan may have lost the Tonight Show, but in those 13 years, he gained an enormous amount of money. Maybe it's time these two cleared the air? I'm envisioning a simple comedian-to-comedian conversation. And maybe someone could place a couple of microphones in front of their faces as they hashed it all out. And perhaps someone could broadcast that audio… you see where I'm going here 🙂