Dueling late night spin-meisters


The battle for late night supremacy in the post-Leno era has both sides claiming major advances. Dave kicked Conan’s butt, claims CBS. Conan is leaving Dave in the dust, counters NBC. Are they looking at the same Nielsen numbers?

Same numbers, yes. But it’s all in how you spin those numbers. We’ll flip a coin and then give you both takes on last week’s ratings. Heads Dave, tails Conan. The flip lands heads, so here we go.

From the CBS publicity machine:

“CBS’s LATE SHOW with DAVID LETTERMAN topped ‘The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien’ for the second consecutive week and third time in the past four first-run weeks, according to Nielsen live plus same day ratings for the week ending July 17.
LATE SHOW’s consecutive viewer wins marks the first time the broadcast has topped “The Tonight Show” in successive weeks since February 1998 (during the Nagano Olympics).
In adults 18-49, LATE SHOW was just -0.2 of a rating point behind ‘The Tonight Show,’ while among adults 18-34, the gap has narrowed to -0.5 of a rating point, the smallest difference between the two shows in both demographic measures since Conan became host.
For the week, LATE SHOW with DAVID LETTERMAN delivered a 2.4/06 in households with an average of 3.45m viewers, up +14% in households (from 2.1/05) and +17% in viewers (from 2.95m) compared to the same week last year.  LATE SHOW was up +10% in adults 25-54 (1.1/04 from 1.0/04), +14% in adults 18-49 (0.8/03 from 0.7/03) and even in adults 18-34 (0.5/02) compared to the same week last year.  Note:  Due to the primetime announcement of Walter Cronkite’s passing, Friday’s broadcast began at 11:43 PM.”

The counter from NBC’s PR folks (who kindly spare us the capital letters):

“NBC’s ‘The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien’ has stretched its adult 18-49 margin of victory over CBS’s ‘Late Show with David Letterman’ week to week, taking the July 13-17 week by a 37 percent advantage over ‘Late Show’ in 18-49 viewers, up from the prior week’s margin of 29 percent.

Despite a highly publicized appearance on ‘Late Show’ by former Beatle Paul McCartney, ‘Tonight’ more than doubled ‘Late Show’s’ audience last week in the younger half of late-night’s key 18-49 demo, adults 18-34.

Conan also out-delivered Letterman for the week among adults 25-54, men 25-54, women 18-49, men 18-49, women 18-34 and men 18-34.

In adult 18-49 rating, ‘The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien’ finished #1 or tied for #1 on five of five nights last week and is 30 for 30 with original telecasts since Conan’s June 1 debut.

The median age of Conan’s audience last week was 47.2, 10 years younger than Letterman’s 57.5. Conan is also younger than he was a year ago on ‘Late Night,’ where the median age of his audience for this same week one year ago was 47.6.”