The Late Show with Stephen Colbert was the most-watched late-night show in total viewers for the 2020-21 television season – its fifth consecutive year at the top.
There are, however, some interesting battles emerging across the broadcast networks involving Jimmy Kimmel Live!, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Night with Seth Meyers and The Late Late Show with James Corden.
Using full-season Live+7 ratings from Nielsen, Colbert comfortably won the spot with a total average of 2.95 million viewers – also the first time ever the CBS show has had a five-season winning streak. But for the first time in its 18-year history, Jimmy Kimmel Live! beat NBC’s The Tonight Show in total viewers. The ABC show beat the NBC show 1.75M-1.54M across all viewers.
At 11:30 p.m., the interesting competition is in the demos.
Using Live+7, across viewers aged 18-49, all three shows score a 0.3, but The Late Show wins with 430,000 viewers compared with The Tonight Show’s 345,000 and Jimmy Kimmel Live!’s 342,000.
When you use Live+3, which Deadline understands is the metric all the late-night shows use to sell ads, there’s very little between ABC, CBS and NBC.
The Tonight Show team is pleased with its performance when it comes to Live+Same Day numbers, putting together a 12-week run at the top or tied at the top using this metric.
Across adults 25-54, The Late Show wins with a 0.5 with 614,000 viewers against Jimmy Kimmel Live!’s 0.4 and 489,000 and The Tonight Show’s 0.4 and 477,000. Similarly, across adults aged 18-34, Colbert beats Kimmel and Fallon with a 0.2 over their 0.1s.
When it comes to 12:30 a.m., the battle between Seth Meyers and James Corden is also interesting.
Across total viewers using Live+7, Meyers’ Late Night averaged 1.01M viewers over the season, with Corden’s The Late Late Show averaging 971,000.
Meyers also wins the 18-49 demo with a 0.2 and 215,000 viewers against Corden’s 0.1 and 174,000 viewers. It should be noted that — and to some extent this applies across all of late-night — Corden’s show has been built for a viral age, particularly his field segments such as “Carpool Karaoke,” and Meyers similarly saw his “A Closer Look” segment get particularly strong attention during the controversial election year.
The gap between these two shows on linear television is also closing. In the 2019-20 season, The Late Late Show trailed Late Night by 87,000 viewers, 101,000 adults 25-54 and 66,000 adults 18-49. This broadcast season, The Late Late Show trailed Late Night by 43,000 viewers, 65,000 adults 25-54 and 41,000 adults 18-49.
The late-night ecosystem has changed a lot over the past 20 years and the battle for linear eyeballs is not as pronounced as it was, particularly under Jay Leno and David Letterman, but there is still healthy competition at 11:30 p.m. The hosts of these shows are known to get along well, accentuated by working together in some ways during the pandemic, but there is obviously still interest from their teams and the networks to do well against the competition.
We will never see the same war between the hosts – as defined by the battle to replace Johnny Carson – but the next late-night front to watch is going to be seeing who is consistently putting on the big post-pandemic show for fans.
The Late Show returns to the Ed Sullivan Theater on Monday, June 14 with a full, vaccinated audience and it is expected to be a pretty rambunctious affair, one that Colbert has been counting down to. The Tonight Show also came out quickly with a full audience and Kimmel, which shoots in L.A. rather than New York, is expected to be next up with a live audience with the host telling Deadline recently he hopes to bring fans back into the studio once California’s latest reopening begins from next week.
There’s no sign of Late Night or The Late Late Show bringing back full audiences, but you’d expect it to happen at some point over the rest of the year.