For the first time since Jay Leno's Tonight Show overlapped with Conan's on a calendar week basis (2010 vs. 2009) his Tonight Show ratings tied Conan's Tonight Show ratings for the comparable calendar week (July 6-9, 2010 vs. July 6-10, 2009).
This could get interesting on a week to week basis going forward. Stay tuned.
The folks dwelling on Leno beating Letterman (which he did again last week) miss the point that beating the competition is important only in press releases (and to sites like ours that focus on the horserace) not to the network’s business. What matters to NBC are a show’s absolute ratings (and their trend) which correlate to its advertising potential. NBC’s ad revenue is based on the Tonight Show’s ratings, not whether it beat the Late Show or not.
CBS, of course, cares about Letterman's Late Show ratings and their trend. Although Letterman's Late Show has been at or above it's year ago ratings recently, last week it was in repeats and fell to a 0.7 adults 18-49 rating average.
The chart shows the late night adults 18-49 weekly average ratings for 2009 and 2010.
Note: The week ending 7/2/2010, the Tonight Show was in repeats, and was delayed by Wimbledon coverage. The week of 7/9/2010 the Late Show was in repeats, and both shows Monday airings were excluded because of the holiday.
No more chart of the sequential weeks comparison between Conan and Leno. That chart was always a bit apples/oranges because of the different seasons. While before the calendar runs of the shows overlapped we had to make do, now that we have some of the same time period to compare, the sequential chart has been retired.