Jun 10, 2009

The War on Late Night

Dave Beats Conan: Panic at NBC?

No, there isn't any panic at NBC, as far as I know. But don't be surprised if somebody in the Internetosphere starts sounding alarm bells now that...

David Letterman has scored his first nightly win over Conan O'Brien!

Boosted by a visit from Julia Roberts, CBS's "Late Show" earned a 3.4/8 in Nielsen's local metered markets Tuesday, a half ratings-point ahead of NBC's "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien." The Letterman win ended six straight nights of O'Brien dominance in the ratings.

Letterman's ratings were up double digits compared to the same Tuesday a year ago, while O'Brien was down a similar margn compared to what Jay Leno had averaged.

While this result will no doubt be parsed and spun and overinterpreted in the coming hours, it's worth pointing out once again -- as TV MoJoe has several times in the past week, even when O'Brien was winning handily-- that in late night, household numbers don't matter. Demographic data does.

The thinking on O'Brien is that he does better with folks under 50. And household numbers tend to skew older. So even if Dave beat Conan in the overnights, there's a chance he could yet prevail in the final demos.

In the case of Tuesday's ratings, NBC also notes that because of hockey playoffs coverage, west coast stations actually aired local programming in primetime, potentially diminishing Conan's lead-in. (Actually, I wonder if "Access Hollywood" and other syndicated fare might not perform better than some of NBC's primetime shows. But that's off-topic).

The rollercoast ratings derby takes another turn tomorrow when Nielsen releases official ratings for Conan's first week. Don't be surprised if that headline is, "Conan Trounces Dave in Debut Week."

And the War nobody wanted slouches forward....


  • Posted June 10 at 9:12 AM


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