Stephen Colbert's 'Late Show' Tops Late-Night Demo Ratings for First Time

But not by much: CBS' 'The Late Show' has inched past NBC's 'Tonight Show' in adults 18-49.
Scott Kowalchyk/CBS
Stephen Colbert

There's a new leader in late night — barely.

CBS' The Late Show With Stephen Colbert has taken over the No. 1 ranking among adults 18-49, sneaking past The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on NBC. It's the first time The Late Show has led the 18-49 demographic for a season to date since Colbert began his term as host in 2015.

Or, technically, the second time. Back in November, when The Late Show pulled even with The Tonight Show in terms of demo rating, Colbert's show had the slimmest of leads in the number of viewers aged 18-49: 658,000 to 656,000. The Tonight Show regained the lead by a small margin soon after that, and the two shows haven't been separated by more than a couple hundredths of a point since.

As of Friday, however, Colbert's 18-49 rating of 0.54 for the season is larger than the 0.53 for Fallon. The Late Show is averaging 692,000 viewers in the 18-49 demographic to 686,000 for The Tonight Show. ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live! remains in third place with a 0.4 demo rating, equivalent to about 512,000 viewers. 

A margin of 6,000 viewers in the key ad measure hardly signals a complete changing of the guard, and it's likely that The Tonight Show and The Late Show will trade the lead a couple more times before the end of the season. CBS has, however, closed a sizable gap in the 11:35 p.m. slot in the past year.

At this point in 2018, The Tonight Show had a 0.09-point lead on The Late Show among adults 18-49 (0.7 to 0.61). Both have (obviously) declined year to year, but The Late Show's slide has been less steep. (Jimmy Kimmel Live! is down from 0.48 a year ago).

The Late Show has also increased its total-viewer lead in the past year: Its 3.84 million viewers is 1.36 million people ahead of The Tonight Show's 2.48 million. At the same time in 2018, The Late Show was averaging 3.87 million to 2.82 million for The Tonight Show

The Tonight Show remains a clear leader on digital channels: The show's YouTube channel has more than 20 million subscribers, compared to about 13.9 million for Jimmy Kimmel Live and 5.9 million for The Late Show. (The Late Late Show With James Corden ranks second there with 18.4 million subscribers.)

NBC's Late Night With Seth Meyers retains its lead over CBS' The Late Late Show With James Corden at 12:35 a.m., albeit by a smaller margin than this time last year.

Through Friday, Late Night is averaging a 0.31 rating in adults 18-49 and 1.47 million viewers to The Late Late Show's 0.24 and 1.37 million. At the same point last season, Late Night was at 0.41 and 1.6 million, Late Late Show at 0.29 and 1.42 million.