Conan vs. Leno: Delayed Viewing Is the New Battleground

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This week’s Hollywood Reporter magazine looks at how TBS’s use of seven-day numbers is elevating 'Conan's' 18-49 demo.

The following article appears in the current issue of The Hollywood Reporter on newsstands now.

After a bitter — and very public — falling out with NBC, Conan O'Brien is playing for the team that wants him. And if ratings for his TBS late-night show have leveled off since his hotly promoted debut in November, he's still a bull's-eye for advertisers looking to find that elusive young-male viewer.

"He's attracting younger viewers," says Sam Armando, senior vp and director at SMGx, a research unit of Starcom MediaVest Group. "And there are not a lot of places to find younger viewers."

The median age of a Conan viewer is a spry 33, the youngest in late night. At 56, Jay Leno’s The Tonight Show and David Letterman’s Late Show attract the oldest audiences, and ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! has a median viewer age of 52. The AARP demo of Leno, Letterman and Kimmel reflects the graying trend on broadcast television in general. But The Colbert Report and The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, which air on young- and male-skewing Comedy Central, also are older than Conan at 39 and 42, respectively.

It's a point TBS has made in marketing Conan, which it boasts is "No. 1 in late night viewers 18-34 and 18-49." But rivals say that 18-49 demo claim comes with an asterisk because TBS is counting delayed viewing within seven days. In Live+Same Day viewing, NBC's Tonight Show recently outrated Conan in the 18-49 demo, 1.3 million viewers to 1.2 million. And Conan, argues NBC, has not topped Leno in the 18-49 demo (in Live+7 or Live+SD) since Conan's second week on the air.

"Whether or not Leno eventually tops Conan is not significant," media analyst Steve Sternberg says. "The fact that this is even a conversation point is a win for TBS and Conan. Before Conan's first episode aired, I said if he can draw a million 18- to 49-year-olds, TBS should be very happy."

TBS is charging an estimated $30,000 to $40,000 per 30-second spot for O'Brien, comparable to rates Leno and Letterman get for their established shows with decidedly older-skewing viewers.

Conan's brand of sketch comedy also lends itself to product integration. O'Brien and sidekick Andy Richter have been willing pitchmen, delivering in-show commercials for AT&T’s BlackBerry Torch and giving away 20 Chevy Cruze sedans in 20 nights.

"The advertisers who support Conan really support his type of comedy," says Linda Yaccarino, executive vp/GM ad sales, marketing and acquisitions at Turner Entertainment. "And when he speaks authentically to the audience, that's where the magic happens."

SHIFTED ALLEGIANCES: Conan beats Tonight Show when viewers have seven days to watch, but Leno is tops in same-day viewing.

Live + Same Day

  1. The Tonight Show With Jay Leno (NBC)
    18-49: 1.3 million
    18-34: 463,000
  2. Conan (TBS)
    18-49: 1.2 million
    18-34: 788,000
  3. Late Show With David Letterman (CBS)
    18-49: 1.1 million
    18-34: 369,000

Live + 7 Days

  1. Conan
    18-49: 1.4 million
    18-34: 930,000
  2. The Tonight Show With Jay Leno
    18-49: 1.3 million
    18-34: 470,000
  3. Late Show With David Letterman
    18-49: 1.1 million
    18-34: 374,000