Many of the eyes watching Stephen Colbert’s new version of The Late Show are less weary than those that watched his predecessor — and there’s more of them, too.
According to Nielsen statistics released Thursday, after just his first two weeks in the new chair, Colbert eked out a victory in the ratings, charting slightly higher than Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show in the sought-after segment of adults 18-34. In doing so, Colbert created an incredible 60 percent rise in viewers from this key demographic.
The show still comes in at number two in overall viewership, with an average of 3.2 million compared to Jimmy Fallon’s 3.7 million. That said, in the first two weeks of their respective new seasons, The Tonight Show’s average audience shrank 6 percent compared to this time last year, whereas the The Late Show’s audience increased by 18 percent.
In fact, Late Night with Stephen Colbert is the only show in its time slot to show gains all year.
The rise in younger viewers in particular is something higher ups at CBS have to be ecstatic about, given that the network has the highest median viewer age of any of the majors, at 59.9 years.
Late night TV has long been a middle-aged viewer’s market. Even the average viewer for Trevor Noah’s new Daily Show comes in at 46 — several years younger than it was when Jon Stewart stepped down as host, but still not the youthful viewership one might expect for a series with such an irreverent brand of humor.
The number of younger viewers now tuning to CBS for Colbert’s show isn’t all that surprising, however. When Colbert hosted the Colbert Report on Comedy Central, he enjoyed the lowest average viewer age on late night TV, and fans were expected to follow him to his new late night gig.
CBS has been aiming to lower its average viewer’s age for some time, and clearly hired Colbert with that goal in mind, swapping the late night host with the highest average viewer age, David Letterman, for the one with the lowest. And it appears Colbert has delivered, as well as helping the aging show trade on the necessary allotment of viral videos via YouTube and social media channels that keeps today’s decidedly younger late show hosts relevant, as more and more viewers exchange traditional TV for the rushing streams of online video.
Time will tell whether Colbert’s gains will hold steady in the long term, but so far, the new host seems to be working out as well as — or even better than — expected.