I noticed stories in a few places (Variety and Huffington Post, in particular) noting that Leno widened his lead over Letterman last week and using that to make the case that NBC obviously did the right thing when it comes to booting Conan.  But then I look on your site and see that  for the same week last summer, Conan’s lead over Letterman was even wider than it is this year and Conan’s ratings were a bit higher!  How do they miss this?

I noticed you didn’t cover the swirl about the ratings for last week’s Bridgestone Invitational  that made the case that now the ratings go down even when Tiger plays.  Any thoughts?

Stan K.

Brooklyn, NY

Pithy sound bites like “Now the ratings go down when Tiger plays,” or “Why it made sense for NBC to boot Conan” while perhaps not true, are more interesting and easier to digest than attempts at trying to explain what’s actually going on (see below).


I didn’t read the Huffington Post or Variety pieces.  I did read the NBC press release noting that it was Leno’s biggest margin of victory over Letterman with adults 18-49 since last March (though not by much, and Letterman has been in repeats on Fridays).

Because we report ratings rounded to the 10th of a ratings point in the chart you linked to, rather than the viewers those ratings points represent, Leno’s margin of victory looks exactly as it did the week before on a ratings basis, even though there was actually a little bit of improvement. Still, you’re absolutely right, Conan had more 18-49 viewers for the same week last year and his margin of victory was even wider than Leno’s was.

Edit: have seen some comments that Conan would have done even worse than Leno if he were still on.  That’s kind of in the realm of “If Babe Ruth had to face modern pitching he wouldn’t have hit even 500 home runs.”  And of course some would surely argue “That’s crazy, he’d hit 1,000!”  Sadly those kinds of arguments can’t ever be resolved with data.

Tiger Woods

I saw the New York Post coverage of the ratings for the WGC Bridgestone Invitational and it was a bit irksome, so rather than be irked, I simply ignored it.

Their data was correct in the sense that the ratings for CBS’s coverage were down 51% vs. last year (when Woods won) and down 34% vs. 2008 when Woods didn’t even play due to injury.

Update: even the reported data was wrong according to Paulsen who runs the great Sports Media Watch site.  In both the preliminary and final numbers, the ratings were not down 34% but even vs. 2008 (when Woods did not play).  They were down 34% from 2007  another year when Woods won the touranament.

The spin of “Tiger playing = bad for ratings”  is ridiculous though.  Tiger playing so badly that his weekend rounds were mostly over before the CBS coverage began is bad for ratings.

I’d speculate the reason 2008 ratings were better is because its leaders  included more names familiar to golf fans. Phil Mickelson was in the running the final day in 2008.   Most people have never heard of this year’s top two finishers and Phil Mickelson was way out of contention finishing in 46th place.

Posted by:TV By The Numbers

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