How Late Night TV Shows Find Their Funny Clips

When it comes to turning someone’s own words against them, few are better than The Daily Show. There are countless examples of host Jon Stewart – and now Trevor Noah – playing a TV clip of some politician or media personality that contradicts something else the person said previously. Frequently, the target is Fox News as we saw in The Daily Show’s popular “mighty morphin’ position changers” segment.

For The Daily Show and its devoted viewers, the ability to set up a joke and play exactly the right clip for the punchline is comedy gold. However, to paraphrase Mark Twain, the difference between the almost right clip and the exactly right clip is like the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. So how do those Daily Show producers find all those clips? Before SnapStream, an army of interns tuned in to Fox, C-SPAN, CNN and every other news channel to watch for any opportunity for criticism. Staff members would record thousands of hours of TV footage on a stack of consumer DVRs and then manually scour them for clips. That all changed in 2009 when The Daily Show tapped SnapStream’s “DVR on steroids” to automate and simplify the process. With SnapStream, The Daily Show can record countless hours of TV across any channel, search the footage for specific keywords, clip and share the exact moment needed, transcode it for the show, and then easily convert show highlights into GIFs for Facebook and Twitter.

The Daily Show came to SnapStream with some ambitious goals. They wanted to:

  • Record traditional TV in the highest possible quality
  • Search TV recordings by keyword
  • Integrate with their existing production workflows (Avid, in this case)
  • Archive TV recordings in perpetuity

That meant they had to:

  • Develop a custom in-house QAM plant
  • Deploy SnapStream TV recording and search
  • Install petabyte-scale storage for long-term archival
  • Establish file export and SDI-playout for editing workflows

Let’s take a step-by-step look at exactly how organizations like The Daily Show use SnapStream and how others might follow their lead.

From VCRs and DVRs to… SnapStream

Historically, The Daily Show would have pulled TV clips from stacks of videocassettes or saved across multiple DVRs or TiVos. SnapStream simplified this process with its “DVR for Business”, allowing them to record television directly onto a multi-user “DVR for Business” and giving everyone in the organization access those recordings through their PC or Mac web browser.

Part of the data center

Unlike a DVR or TiVo, SnapStream does not connect to a traditional television display. Instead, it becomes part of an organization’s data center, right in the server rack. All control and configuration of SnapStream is done in any web browser on the network.

Recording in high-definition (with clear QAM)

To record any TV channel in the best possible quality, whether it’s cable or satellite, the Daily Show and other organizations build their own clear QAM cable plant. Creating a clear QAM TV 4 feed from your high-definition cable or satellite set-top boxes following the instructions in our QAM quick start guide [PDF].

‍Figure 1 From SnapStream's QAM quick start guide (link to PDF)

Recordings lots (and lots and lots) of high-quality TV

A single SnapStream DVR appliance can record 10 TV shows, but multiple SnapStream’s can be clustered together to record a virtually unlimited number of TV channels. So while recordings are distributed across multiple physical nodes, control and management is centralized. The Daily Show uses SnapStream’s clustering technology to concurrently record 30 TV channels in high definition.


As you might imagine, The Daily Show has huge storage requirements. They archive about 162 hours of that per day, which amounts to 1 terabyte of data per day and 365 TB per year. That is a lot of footage, but it’s important to the show to maintain the library of TV footage so they can hold people accountable for what they said even if it was several years ago.

While a SnapStream cluster itself can record 100+ TB of recorded TV shows, for petabyte scale storage, SnapStream helped the show implement an HP Storage Works. The HP Storage Works solution struck the right balance between scalability, performance, and cost.

Step 1: Schedule recordings (24x7, manual)

SnapStream’s easy-to-use program guide lets anyone from writers to post-production staff set recordings to meet their needs. With a click, they can choose to record individual shows or set 24/7 recording for multiple channels.

Figure 2 SnapStream program guide recording options

Step 2: Search TV (like the Internet)

SnapStream’s powerful TV search technology provides unparalleled capability to find exactly the TV clips the show’s writers and producers need. If Daily Show producers want to know every mention of Obama in the news that day, they would simply type “Obama” into the search box, and in an instant, they would have a list of links to every mention:

‍Figure 3 Sample SnapStream TV Search on 'Obama'

When they click on the link for “CNN Newsroom with Brooke Baldwin” it takes them exactly that moment within the TV show:

From here, they can browse around inside the full TV recording, using the timeline below the video or the close-captioning transcript itself.

Advanced TV search & email alerts… no search left behind

Users can filter search results by the title of the show, date, genre and channel. All the options for SnapStream TV search can be found in our TV search cheat sheet (PDF).

They can also set up email alerts to notify them when a term or phrase is mentioned on TV (like Google Alerts, but for TV). When Jon Stewart and Fox commentator Bill O’Reilly were arguing over the airwaves, Stewart could have received an immediate alert every time O’Reilly mentioned his name. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

Saving time

“Someone described it as DVR meets Google,” Daily Show producer Jeff Gussow said in a recent Storybench article. “We can find something in 20 minutes where it used to be an hour. Say we want to find out if someone said ‘Obama’s lost it,’ for example, we’re able to put together those montages quicker because of SnapStream.”

Step 3: Create TV clips

Clipping is integrated within SnapStream and is one of the product’s simplest and yet most powerful features. While watching any TV recording, you can set a start point and an end point and then click the clip icon. Keyboard shortcuts for clipping are also available for advanced users.

‍Figure 4 Creating a TV clip in SnapStream is easy

Step 4: Share with the team

Once you’ve found the moment of TV you’re looking for, SnapStream makes it easy to share those moments with others on your team.

At a show like the Daily Show, this makes it easy for the writers and editors to sit down together, review ideas and “green light” segments for that day’s show.

There are different ways to share TV moments with SnapStream:

  • ‍Deep linking: The most “light weight” way to share a TV moment with someone who has access to SnapStream, simply click “Link To Show” and then copy/paste the link into an email. This “deep link” plays back the show at the current time code.
‍Figure 5 Deep Linking
  • Tagging: Tags in SnapStream are like labels in Gmail. You can add a tag on a timecode to a timecode or to a time-range. Other users with access to SnapStream can then browse labels and access the shows and timecodes you marked.
Figure 6 Add a Tag
‍Figure 7 Browse by Tag

Share via SnapStream: Once you’ve marked a clip, you can choose to “Share via SnapStream” – this uploads the TV clip to a private video sharing site that can be accessed on any mobile phone or tablet (iPhone or Android) or desktop (Mac or PC).

‍Figure 8 Share via SnapStream

Step 5: Export to Final Cut Pro and Avid

The final step in the Daily Show’s production workflow is getting a high-quality TV clip from SnapStream into their video editor. Broadly speaking, there are two ways to do this:

  • ‍HD-SDI playout: Using a SnapStream HD-SDI playout node, any TV recording or TV clip can be output via SDI and ingested into a video editor, such as Avid or Final Cut Pro.
  • ‍File-based export: SnapStream can transcode and scale video from and to a variety of formats and resolutions, including XDCAM and H.264 (MP4).


“[SnapStream] has absolutely changed the way the produce,” senior producer Pat King told TheWrap. “There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t use it. It’s cut our production time down by about 60 or 70 percent.”

In addition to entertaining and informing millions of viewers, by using SnapStream, The Daily Show has:

  • Achieved a benchmark in high-quality, responsive-style screenwriting and production
  • Archived a large body of searchable, indexed TV
  • Reduced post-production time
  • Optimized the creative collaboration process

Our hope is that by better understanding how The Daily Show has leverage SnapStream, you’ll start to see how you could use it in your own organization. Even if you don’t need to record Fox News 24/7, all kinds of organizations can take advantage of the recording and search tool.

  • Political campaigns use SnapStream to monitor mentions of their candidate and opponents.
  • Sports teams use it to track coverage of the team and players.
  • Media outlets use it to search for clips to illustrate their stories.

In the meantime, you’ll have a new appreciation for what happens behind the scenes at The Daily Show. And now you know there’s no need to worry about some poor intern having to watch C-SPAN all day.

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