Commentary

Finding Young Viewers For Late Night: Can Fallon Save The Day?

Think about Jimmy Fallon, late night DVR playback, and how Internet streaming is affecting CW's "Gossip Girl."

Put all these factors in one big mixing bowl and you have viewer actions and programming mush network executives can't recognize -- nor figure out how to handle.

Broadcast networks continue to target young audiences for late night -- but closer inspection shows them missing the mark.

Jay Leno pulls in viewers with the frisky average age of 54.3 years old; David Letterman's does a bit better with 52.6; and Craig Ferguson is at 50.2. Only two late-night hosts get in under the 50-year-old mark - Jimmy Kimmel, at 49.7, and Conan O'Brien, the best of the bunch, at 47.3 years.

What is more troubling is that by the time Fallon hits the airwaves in 2009, DVR playback could be producing an increasingly negative effect. Where will the younger viewers be then?

Rick Ludwin, executive vice president of late-night and prime-time series for NBC, says a major problem comes between 10 p.m. and midnight when DVR playback is the highest. On certain nights -- Thursdays, for example -- all the shows played back on DVRs during 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. have a collective rating that would make them the second-highest-rated show.


Technology-savvy young viewers all control this -- as well as the Internet. So much so, that Peter Liguori, chairman of Fox Entertainment, noted in Fox's upfront press conference that for every viewer that watches "Gossip Girl" on the CW, another viewer is watching it -- illegally -- on the Internet. CW decided to nix any official video streaming of the show to force people back to network viewing -- but it still hasn't moved the show's rating needle much.

In the future, all eyes should be on the CW and the likes of Fox because young viewers' technology-altering actions are likely to affect these networks first before any other programmer.

These lessons can also be applied to handling late-night programming. Should networks cut back on streaming video clips of late-night shows? Will the Internet streaming -- illegal, legal and otherwise, in addition to DVR playback -- hurt late-night talk shows in future years?

Maybe NBC and Fallon can find a way to pull viewers back -- and pull them in younger.

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