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The race for late-night supremacy has turned into a dead heat.
CBS’ Late Show With Stephen Colbert has moved into a tie with NBC’s The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon among adults 18-49 for the season so far. Through the first seven weeks of the season (Sept. 24-Nov. 9), the two shows are each averaging a 0.51 rating in the key ad-sales demographic.
Late Show has been tops in total viewers for some time — it currently has a 1.19 million-viewer lead over The Tonight Show — but this season is the first time the two have been tied in the demo since Colbert took over Late Show in September 2015.
Late Show currently has the very smallest of leads in the total number of 18- to 49-year-old viewers, averaging 658,000 for the season to Tonight‘s 656,000. That, too, is a first for Colbert’s show.
At this time a year ago, Tonight had a .07-point lead over Late Show (0.64 to 0.57). Both shows, obviously, are down among adults 18-49 year to year; Colbert is off by 10.5 percent and Fallon by 20 percent. (At 0.4 through Nov. 9, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! has fallen 18 percent year to year from a 0.49.)
Interestingly, Tonight has led Late Show in live-plus-same-day ratings in six of seven weeks so far this season, with only the week of Nov. 5 going to CBS. More people watch Late Show on delay, however, allowing it to close the gap.
Tonight, which named former Today executive producer Jim Bell showrunner in late October, has fallen off considerably in the past two years. The slide has been attributed variously to Fallon’s soft-pedaling of an interview with then-candidate Donald Trump shortly before the 2016 presidential election, Colbert’s turn toward sharper political humor around the same time and the general drift of viewers under 50 away from traditional TV.
That last factor has affected other late-night shows as well, but Tonight has suffered much steeper declines than either Late Show or Jimmy Kimmel Live! in the past two years.
Since Nov. 11, 2016, Late Show is off about 14 percent in the 18-49 demo (0.59 to 0.51) — but has grown its total audience by 22.5 percent (2.89 million viewers to 3.54 million). Jimmy Kimmel Live! is down 22 percent in the demo (0.51 to 0.4) and a smaller 11 percent in viewers (2.3 million to 2.03 million).
And Tonight? Well, it has lost 42 percent in the demo (falling from 0.88) and 29 percent in total viewers (3.32 million to 2.35 million).
NBC points out that The Tonight Show is No. 1 among late-night shows across digital and social platforms, with substantially more subscribers and interactions than its competitors. On YouTube, the de facto water cooler for the current TV era, Tonight Show videos have racked up almost 50 percent more views in 2018 (2.08 billion) than either The Late Show or Jimmy Kimmel Live (1.4 billion apiece).
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