NBC’s Leno Stays on Top, But Others Gain in Young Adults

In first quarter at earlier time, 'Jimmy Kimmel Live' outdraws Leno among adults under 35

NBC's Leno Stays on Top, Others Gain Young Adults

Amid all the talk of changes in the latenight television landscape, one thing has stayed the same in 2013: NBC’sTonight Show with Jay Leno” is No. 1.

But that didn’t stop other networks from touting their own accomplishments Thursday, as the field becomes ever more fragmented and competitive.

For the first quarter of 2013, “The Tonight Show” was the top latenight draw in the key demos of adults 18-49 and 25-54 as well as total viewers. The show was hardly dominant, though, and it was surpassed for the frame by ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” in the more narrow adults 18-34 demo — a category that Comedy Central dominates in its 11 o’clock block of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

It’s Kimmel’s advance in the under-35 crowd that spurred NBC to initiate a changing of the guard in latenight, installing Jimmy Fallon to take over for Leno on “Tonight” early next year.

Looking at Nielsen estimates for Jan. 8-March 29 (a 12-week quarter corresponding with the start of “Jimmy Kimmel Live” in its new timeslot and including all regular firstrun and repeat episodes), NBC’s “Tonight Show” averaged 3.54 million viewers overall in the 11:35 p.m.-12:35 a.m. hour. It was followed by CBS’ “Late Show With David Letterman” (3.09 million) and ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” (2.64 million).  Both Leno and Letterman were down about 5% from last year. Comparisons for Kimmel are trickier because of his new timeslot, but his first quarter of 2013 is his most-watched to date — up about 50% from his delivery of a year ago when the show started at midnight.

In adults 18-49, Leno averaged 1.01 million viewers for the quarter, to 929,000 for Kimmel and 875,000 for Letterman. But in the 18-34 group, Kimmel’s 329,000 put it ahead of Leno (319,000), with Letterman third (279,000).

Looking at just 11:30 p.m. to midnight for the quarter — when most of the key talkshow players on broadcast and cable are on the air — “Tonight” drew the most viewers in the demo (1.11 million), closely followed by “JKL” (1.04 million), “The Colbert Report” (990,000) and “Late Show” (948,000); TBS’ “Conan” was well behind (474,000).

Among all post-primetime talkshows, Comedy Central’s “Daily Show With Jon Stewart” averaged the most viewers 18-49 (1.24 million), but it benefits from its short 30-minute duration and doesn’t have to compete against the broadcast programs. And every minute is key when it comes to television usage levels after primetime, with Nielsen estimating  that about 30% of adults 18-49 are watching television in the 11 p.m. half-hour vs. 21% for the the 11:30-12:30 hour.

Looking at just their originals for the quarter, “Daily Show” averaged about 2.5 million viewers, including 1.4 million adults 18-49, while “The Colbert Report” drew 1.9 million, of which 1.1 million were 18-49ers. Comedy Central pointed out that the shows were especially strong in the fratboy demo of men 18-24 — rising nearly 20% vs. last year.

Also of note in latenight, NBC’s “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” drew 1.71 million viewers in its 12:35 a.m. hour, with CBS’ “Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson” averaging 1.52 million. Fallon led by a wider margin of 28% in adults 18-49 (678,000 to 529,000).

Fallon also shot up by 18% vs. last year in adults 18-34 (to 298,000) — a stat that would seem to position himself well in his eventual showdown with ABC’s Kimmel. Leno, meanwhile, declined by 7% to 319,000.

ABC’s “Nightline,” which moved from 11:35 p.m. to 12:35 a.m., predictably fell way off from last year (1.60 million viewers, including 515,000 adults 18-49 and 710,000 adults 25-54). Versus the ABC time period from a year ago, though, the news program was up 12%.