Kimmel third, but posts largest audience yet, in new timeslot

The more things change, the more they stay the same in latenight — at least for now.

Even as the landscape got more competitive with ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live’s” move to 11:35 p.m., NBC’s “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” remained No. 1 in the ratings race during the February sweep in the adults 18-49 demo. Leno maintained his slim lead without any support from NBC’s primetime lineup, which has hit the skids after a strong fall.

According to Nielsen estimates for the Jan. 31-Feb. 27 sweep period, Leno’s show won the 11:35 p.m. hour in adults 18-49 with an average audience in the demo of 1.003 million to 929,000 for CBS’ “The Late Show With David Letterman” and 898,000 for Kimmel. The 8% advantage for “Tonight” in the demo was up from a 2% margin in February 2012 and up from a 6% advantage last November.

In total viewers, Leno’s 3.51 million edged out Letterman’s 3.29 million and was well ahead of Kimmel’s 2.53 million. In his first sweep airing at the earlier time of 11:35 p.m., Kimmel logged show’s most-watched sweeps month to date, topping the 2.12 million it drew last November in its midnight time slot.

The victory for Leno is more impressive considering the lack of primetime circulation for NBC during the month, as the net’s performance in the 10:30 p.m. half-hour leading into the late local news lagged well behind that of CBS and ABC.

In the 12:35 a.m. hour, NBC’s “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” won by an 18% margin in 18-49 over CBS’ “Late Late Show” while edging it out in total viewers (1.663 million to 1.577 million).

In their common half-hour, Fallon also beat ABC’s “Nightline” — by 31% in adults 18-49 (683,000 to 520,000), by 13% in adults 25-54 (795,000 to 701,000) and by 17% in total viewers (1.81 million to 1.55 million). For its full duration (12:35-1:05 a.m.), “Nightline” averaged 527,000 adults 18-49, 716,000 adults 25-54 and 1.605 million viewers overall — well down, as expected, from when it aired from 11:35 p.m. to midnight.

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