Late-night laughs capture the online vote

— -- Even though the last week of the presidential race lies ahead, there's already a winner: late-night comedy skits spread virally on the Web.

Hosts such as David Letterman and programs including Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show are profitably mining the campaign for satirical fodder, but the broadcast is only the beginning.

Not only did SNL get its largest TV audience (15 million) in 14 years for the Oct. 18 broadcast with vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin watching Tina Fey impersonate her, but Palin-related SNL skits have been viewed more than 63 million times across the Web, according to tracking firm Visible Measures.

Online users' sharing of SNL videos, through e-mail and posting on other sites, has made it the top TV show on the Web, says the firm's Matt Cutler. "There is this conversation of whether Internet video is going to kill TV," he says. "In this case, it feels they are very complementary."

More pre-election returns:

•Republican candidate John McCain's Oct. 16 make-up visit to The Late Show With David Letterman averaged 6.5 million viewers, the show's biggest audience in years. After that, clips were viewed more than 1 million times online and via mobile devices. Traffic for other Letterman-McCain-related clips on totaled more than 5 million viewed and shared over the past month. "People were e-mailing (McCain-Letterman clips) back and forth," says CBS Interactive's Anthony Soohoo.

•Comedy Central, which has politics-heavy The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report, saw its online audience nearly double during the political conventions and had an additional 50% growth during the week ending Oct. 12, according to Nielsen Online. Meanwhile, the shows have hit record TV viewing highs all month. jumped from the No. 4 cable TV website to No. 2 for the week ending Oct. 18, says online tracking firm Hitwise.

•NBC says it has streamed more than 47 million SNL Fey-as-Palin videos on NBC-affiliated and alone, not counting the Oct. 23 appearance with guest Will Ferrell as President Bush. Other election-related video sketches drew 15 million more views.

All have helped make NBC, the No. 3 broadcaster in TV viewers, the No. 1 network on the Web for two straight weeks, according to Hitwise.