"Longtime producers and executives working in late-night television concede that NBC is taking a risk in planning changes to one of the few remaining areas where the network finishes first. NBC, though, is encouraged by the fact that [Jimmy] Fallon seems to appeal to many of the older viewers who have stuck by [Jay] Leno and at the same time is popular with a host of younger, more Internet-focused viewers," writes Bill Carter in today’s [Monday, March 25, 2013] New York Times.
However, Carter adds, "The best rating in the time period from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m., according to Brad Adgate, senior vice president for research at Horizon Media, is ‘recorded playback on the DVR.’ DVR playback of recorded shows is averaging a 3.1 rating — or almost four million viewers."
Comparatively, Carter notes, "Among the viewers who determine financial success in late night, those ages 18 to 49, Mr. Leno still leads the network late-night shows, but with an average rating of just 0.8 (about 996,000 viewers) for the season. Jon Stewart does better on cable, with an average rating of 1.1."
And "The late-night comics are threatened by cartoon characters, too: shows in those hours on the Cartoon Network are averaging about a 1 rating, or about 1.3 million viewers. (Mr. Fallon is averaging a 0.5 rating for his NBC show in the 12:35 hour — that’s just 632,000 viewers.)"
Thus, Carter notes, "With diminished numbers come diminished profits. Mr. Leno once made about $150 million a year for NBC. Now the number is probably between $25 million and $40 million, a senior network executive said.
"Part of the reason is cost. One executive who has worked on late-night budgets estimated that the bigger network shows like ‘Tonight’ still cost $50 million to $70 million a year. (This is after NBC forced budget cuts this season and won a reduction in salary from Mr. Leno.) That number has to be tightened further for the shows to continue to make money, the executive said.
"Another reason is competition. Mr. Leno now faces not only his longtime rival, David Letterman, on CBS, but also Jimmy Kimmel on ABC. Despite initial expectations, though, Mr. Kimmel, 45, has not overrun Mr. Leno, 62, whose resilience (critics call it obstinacy) is something of a television legend. But Mr. Kimmel does edge out Mr. Leno among viewers ages 18 to 34."
We urge you to click on the link at the end of the first paragraph of this item, above, to read all of Carter’s perceptive article.