The late-night scene got a little younger in 2015, with the retirement of elder late-night statesmen David Letterman and Jon Stewart and the anointing of fresh faces like Trevor Noah. And, according to a new report from TiVo Research, Letterman’s audience appears to have retired with him.
TiVo looked at data from 156,000 of its users to figure out where late-night viewers took their loyalties after the end of “Late Show With David Letterman,” “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” and the 2014 finales of “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” and “The Colbert Report.” (TiVo left out ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” because of a lack of any real transition at that network.)
The starkest indicator that we’re truly in a new late-night era is the virtual disappearance of Letterman’s and Leno’s audiences. According to TiVo’s data, 69 percent of Letterman’s audience is nowhere to be found; only 11 percent of his devotees have followed “Late Show” into the era of Stephen Colbert, Letterman’s successor, who took the reins in September. Similarly, only 16 percent of Leno’s fans made the transition to Jimmy Fallon fandom, and 12 percent found solace in one of the other three talk shows TiVo looked at.
That’s 72 percent unaccounted for. Given the lack of a huge increase in competitor Jimmy Kimmel’s ratings, it’s safe to say that many fans have simply abandoned the late-night talk show racket altogether.
TiVo’s definition of a late-night “fan” is perhaps a little looser than the traditional one: It’s based on TiVo devices that showed someone had watched at least a quarter of an episode for 10 episodes out of the year, so “semi-frequent viewer” is perhaps a more appropriate term. Regardless, the results are a little surprising.
The research contained other insights as well: While the overall Nielsen ratings for new “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah are down an unpleasant 40 percent from Stewart’s tenure, 94 percent of TiVo’s “fans” of the Jon Stewart “Daily Show” stuck around. And despite the man behind the desk of “Late Show With Stephen Colbert” being the same as the man behind the desk of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” only 55 percent of “Colbert Report” supporters took their fandom over to the “real” Stephen Colbert on CBS, indicating that a decent chunk of Colbert Nation prefers the persona to the man himself.
Meanwhile, the loss of most of a generation of late-night viewers doesn’t seem to be fazing NBC or CBS. Colbert’s “Late Show” audience, while regularly smaller than that of Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show” on NBC, does skew younger than Letterman’s, which is good for CBS’ ad sales team — advertisers covet viewers in the 18-49 age group, and since Colbert is doing better in that demo than Letterman, that counts as progress.
Seth Meyers’ “Late Night” audience, at least on TiVo, wasn’t the recipient of a lot of loyalty from defunct shows; but that means that he’s a self-starter, bringing in and building his own audience, which is nipping at the heels of Colbert’s in the 18-49 demo, despite airing on NBC and a full hour after Colbert.
TiVo’s graphic may be square-shaped, but insiders say the audience flow is more akin to the Circle of Life — the lions of late night passing on (along with their viewers) to make room for cubs coming into their own.
And for those truly missing the old days, Antenna TV has nightly reruns of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”