Colbert Increases Late-Night Viewer Lead in 2018, Fallon Still Tops Demos

Stephen Colbert remains the most-watched late-night host, but Jimmy Fallon holds (lessened) sway among younger viewers.
Gail Schulman/CBS
Stephen Colbert

The numbers have changed some, but the story is pretty much the same: CBS' The Late Show With Stephen Colbert is still the most-watched show in late night as 2018 comes to a close, while NBC's The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon remains first in key demographics.

The Late Show, in fact, has increased its total-viewer lead over a year ago and narrowed the gap with The Tonight Show in the key ad-sales demo of adults 18-49. Both shows are down year to year, as is ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live!, but the declines for Colbert's show are smaller than for its competitors.

On the flip side, The Tonight Show maintains the top ranking (albeit not by a lot) not just among adults 18-49 but also the 18-34 and 25-54 demos. NBC also wins the 12:35 a.m. hour with Late Night With Seth Meyers.

For the 2018-19 season through Dec. 15, The Late Show is averaging 3.67 million nightly viewers, leading The Tonight Show (2.46 million) by 1.21 million. That's an increase over the 980,000-viewer lead Colbert held at the same time in 2017. (Jimmy Kimmel Live! is at 2.08 million for the season so far.)

While The Late Show audience is fairly stable year to year (off a scant 50,000 viewers, or 1 percent), The Tonight Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live! have declined 10 percent and 11 percent.

Although The Late Show pulled into a tie with The Tonight Show among adults 18-49 in mid-November, Tonight has since nosed back ahead. Fallon's show is averaging a 0.54 rating in the demo to 0.52 for Colbert and 0.4 for Kimmel. All three are off by double digits vs. this time in 2017: 13 percent for Colbert, 18 percent for Kimmel and 21 percent for Fallon.

The Tonight Show's lead in the 18-49 ratings has shrunk from 0.08 at this time in 2017 to 0.02 now.

Tonight also ranks first among adults 25-54 (0.78 to 0.75 for The Late Show) and adults 18-34 (0.28 to 0.25). It's the youngest of the three 11:35 p.m. network shows, although the average viewer of all three is still an AARP member: Tonight's average viewer is 57.5 years old to 59.4 for Jimmy Kimmel Live! and 63.3 for The Late Show.

Fallon also holds an edge in the digital afterlife: Tonight Show clips have racked up 1.73 billion YouTube views in 2018 (through Nov. 30), compared to 1.5 billion for The Late Show and 1.49 billion for Jimmy Kimmel Live!

At 12:35 a.m., Late Night With Seth Meyers (0.32 in adults 18-49, 1.48 million viewers) holds a consistent lead over CBS' The Late Late Show With James Corden (0.26, 1.35 million). Both shows have slipped by a few hundredths of a point in the demo and under 100,000 viewers year over year.