Jay Leno Returns To The Tonight Show In A Week, What Will Happen To Late Night Ratings?

Categories: Featured,Late Night TV Ratings

Written By

February 21st, 2010

In a very nice (and much longer) piece by Broadcasting & Cable's Marisa Guthrie about ABC's Nightline's coming rarings prospects comes these ratings notes about how Nightline has been doing while NBC was in late night turmoil.

While it makes good headlines to compare ratings for Nightline to those of the late-night talk shows, those comparisons are a little dicey. News programs and talk shows have different target demos, and Leno and Letterman both go an hour longer, with the second half tending to drag down their overall numbers.

Season to date, Nightline is averaging 3.95 million total viewers, a 1% uptick, with 1.58 million viewers in its target demo of 25-54-year-olds, according to Nielsen (Sept. 21, 2009-Feb. 7, 2010). So, Nightline remains competitive in the 11:35 p.m. time period despite an 11% year-to-year dip in tune-in for the demo.

That puts Nightline behind Late Show and ahead of The Tonight Show in both categories. Tonight is down 46% and 26% among total viewers and in the 25-54 demo, respectively, while Late Show is up 7% among total viewers and down 3% in the demo. However, late-night comedy shows seldom talk about the 25-54 demo, the more traditional news target.

The surge in viewers for O'Brien's final weeks has put The Tonight Show on top for the season in the coveted 18-49 demographic on which much entertainment programming advertising is sold. But it's still down 21% year-to-year in that category.

Nightline's ratings picture looks a little rosier when it is compared to full hours for Tonight and Late Show, which rankles research executives at NBC and CBS because the second half-hour of late-night comedy shows trends down precipitously. Based on the half-hour-to-half-hour comparison, Nightline remains in second behind Late Show among total viewers but drops to third in the 25-54 demo.

via Broadcasting & Cable.

My guess is that before too long, perhaps by the end of this broadcast season, the relative ratings positions of NBC, CBS and ABC will be restored to where they were a year ago at 11:35pm. All will likely be down from last season in March-May, but my guess is that they're back to the same relative positions NBC first, CBS second, ABC third.

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