Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Late Night Ratings: Winners & losers

The New York Times' Bill Carter has an article coming out in tomorrow's print edition about the declining ratings for network late night talk shows, and, indeed, the possible decline and fall of the genre itself.

"[Jay] Leno saw his ratings for the second quarter shrink sharply from the same period two years ago and his margin over his longtime competitor, David Letterman on CBS, reduced to its smallest level since 1995," writes Carter. "But Mr. Letterman’s numbers have declined as well. The only network talk show in the 11:30 hour to add viewers was 'Jimmy Kimmel Live' on ABC, which gained about 150,000 over last year."
Industry observers blame several factors, including the popularity of DVRs; indeed, CBS’s chief research officer, David F. Poltrack, called the machines "the biggest competitor in the time period."

An anonymous late night executive told Carter that "the situation is bad, and it is going to get worse over the long haul... People do not tape these shows, and you also have a firm sense that if something great does happen on one of these shows, you’ll see it anyway online the next day."

(While I haven't "taped" anything in well over five years, I do record and time-shift late night talk shows. But it's true that many viewers are satisfied to see the best clips online the next day. It's also no doubt true that Kimmel's endless stream of viral YouTube clips contributed to his audience growth, as it tends to be a show that people enjoy once they've had a chance to sample it.)

However, the news isn't all bleak, indicating that the future of late night talk is likely moving to cable. “The Daily Show” and "Colbert Report" on Comedy Central both added viewers in the 18-to-49 age group, and the viewership of E!’s Chelsea Handler also grew. Of course, all eyes will be on TBS when Conan O'Brien joins the late night fold later this year.

The lone bit of good news for the traditional networks: on ABC, "Nightline" grew to its best viewer-total in six years in the second quarter of 2010.


  1. Andrew said...

    It's also no doubt true that Kimmel's endless stream of viral YouTube clips contributed to his audience growth

    That's a bit of a leap, especially with no data to back up such a claim. Isn't it probable that the show's leadin growing "to its best viewer-total in six years" has a bit more to do with it? Regardless, there's certainly plenty of room for doubt.

  2. Talk Show News said...

    I honestly don't know what the crossover is between "Nightline" viewers & the "Kimmel" audience, but it seems pretty clear that ABC has been working its collective ass off to promote Kimmel -- witness the Academy Award specials, the Game Night programs tied to the NBA finals, the "Lost" and "Twilight" shows, etc. From my observation, "I'm F#$@king Matt Damon" was sort of Kimmel's "Hugh Grant moment" that caused a lot of people to give him a second look.