Broadcast television late-night audiences are getting older
and disappearing slightly, according to Nielsen data for the most recently
completed regular season. The six broadcast late-night shows' cumulative
nightly audience declined by 1 million during the 2011-12 season, compared to
the 2010-11 season, to 15.5 million. Meanwhile, the cumulative median age
audience for the six went up by a year to 54.7.
And ABC's half-hour news show, Nightline, continues to
reign as the king of late-night on the broadcast networks. This past season it
averaged 3.84 million viewers per night, down 140,000 viewers from the previous
season. Nightline also aged up a year
to a median age audience of 57.2.
NBC's The Tonight Show with Jay Leno averaged 3.63
million viewers per telecast this season, down 270,000. Its audience also aged
up a year and a half to 57.5.
Third in audience among the late-night shows was CBS' Late
Show with David Letterman, which averaged 3.14 million viewers, down
350,000. The Letterman median age
audience stayed about the same at 55.6.
ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live, which airs at midnight
comes on a half-hour into both Leno and Letterman, averaged
1.77 million viewers, up 50,000, making it the only late-night show to increase
its nightly audience average. However, Kimmel'smedian audience age rose to 53.3 from 51.6.
In the battle for 12:30 a.m. supremacy, NBC's Late Night
with Jimmy Fallon averaged 1.69 million viewers, down 30,000, while CBS' The
Late Late Show with CraigFerguson averaged 1.47 million viewers,
down 240,000. Fallon's median age
audience jumped by more than three years to 52.6, while Ferguson's stayed about the same at 52.2.
While it's no surprise that Nightline draws the largest
number of 55-plus viewers-2.1 million per night-it also draws the most 18-34
viewers at 347,000, slightly more than Leno, 50,000 more than Letterman,
about 100,000 more than Kimmel and Fallon, and about 150,000 more
And Nightline won the battle for 18-49 viewers,
averaging 1.15 million in the demo each night, compared to 1.07 million for Leno
and 1.03 for Letterman.Fallon averaged 674,000 in the 18-49
demo, Kimmel averaged 668,000 and Ferguson averaged 592,000.
Among viewers 25-54, Nightline averaged 1.51 million
viewers; Leno, 1.39
million; Letterman, 1.33
Fallon, 819,000; and Ferguson, 748,000.
Here's another indication that late night is aging up-both
Kimmel and Fallon added about 100,000 55-plus viewers this past
So why has Nightline been so good at keeping the
crown as broadcast TV's late-night leader?
"I think Nightline is doing well because it's counter
programming to the comedic talk shows but also because it's a good show," says
Brad Adgate, senior VP, research at Horizon Media. "There are not too many
in-depth news programs on TV these days. The cable networks offer opinion and
editorial comments on most of their nightly news programming. They are not
necessarily offering any in-depth news. It's surprising how successful Nightline has become. It wasn't so long
ago that ABC was courting David Letterman to replace Nightline which was
then hosted by Ted Koppel."
And why is overall late-night viewing edging down a bit?
"I think it's dwindling because of competition in late-night
from cable and online websites, where younger viewers are going," Adgate says. "I
think the median ages are rising because of the success of Cartoon Network's
Adult Swim programming, Comedy Central's late-night block and Conan [on TBS]. I also think that in
this new Internet era, more of the late-night comedy skits and routines each
night are appearing online either on the networks' own sites or on sites like
YouTube. The younger audiences are able to see them without watching the entire