Old People Love Jay Leno; While Conan's Young Audience Flees To Cable

Jay LenoHe’s back in the saddle again.

Photo: AP

Jay Leno is back on the late night throne.He is beating CBS’ David Letterman and bringing in more than 50% of the viewers Conan O’Brien did in his former The Tonight Show timeslot.

Some say it’s as if the late night debacle never happened.

But being back where NBC (GE) started isn’t exactly good news for the network. They tried to switch up the late night schedule for a reason — and the 10 p.m. hour is still bringing in weak ratings.

And another disappointing fact: Most of Jay’s fans are older folks. The median age of his audience is 56, far from the coveted 18-to-49 year old demographic that advertisers love.

As Bill Carter in the New York Times tells us, Leno’s The Tonight Show ratings aren’t exactly the same as they used to be. Here is the key stat: He gets about 4.4 million viewers a night, down from 5.37 million in 2009. “His rating among 18- to 49-year-olds is about a 1.15, down from a 1.5.”

NBC, like all major networks, are grasping for younger viewers, who are flocking to cable. In the late night game, networks’ main challenge is to keep that key demographic from switching to Comedy Central (VIA). Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are commanding that age group. 

From Carter: While Mr. Leno now has a median age of 56, with Mr. Letterman at 54, “Nightline” at 55, Mr. Ferguson and Mr. Kimmel both at 52, and even NBC’s younger act, Jimmy Fallon, at 50, Mr. Stewart comes in with a median age of 40 and Mr. Colbert younger still at 37. Read more at the Times >

If Conan can land a Fox deal, will he bring a younger median age to the networks?

Well, in October, the median age of his NBC audience was 47.5, the youngest across all the late night network hosts and Jon Stewart’s audience.

Considering his recent online renaissance, he might bring an even younger rating to a network like Fox. But TV executives and Conan’s team are still hammering out a deal with Fox affiliates to make another late night franchise work.

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