Measuring The 10 PM “Leno Effect”



Certainly, pretty much everyone is aware that the ratings for the new ‘Jay Leno Show’ on NBC have been less than spectacular this season.

However, based on a report compiled exclusively for Fancast Friday by a leading cable-TV network research department, the actual numbers are even worse than you might think.

Indeed, two months into NBC’s grand experiment to program the 10 o’clock weekday hour with a relatively cheap-to-produce talk show, the results now must be deemed a failure on every level.

Watch full episodes of The Jay Leno Show here

According to the report, which is based on Nielsen Media Research data, NBC has lost 31% of its audience at 10 p.m., and even more importantly, 45% of the audience demographic it makes money on, 18-49-year-olds.

For its part, NBC still insists that ‘Leno’ is drawing enough young adults to be profitable, with Leno himself quoted in the TV industry trade Broadcasting & Cable Monday, saying, “I’m told if we can keep a 1.5 [rating], they make $300 million a year; this is what they say. So we’re a little above the 1.5, we’re doing OK.”

Still, while the show may be directly profitable, the damage to the network, its affiliate stations and its rivals from a show that barely averages above a 1.5 demo rating is more dispersed.

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In fact, even top advertising agency officials who supported NBC’s bold strategy when it was unfurled earlier this year are now second-guessing it, with one telling Fancast Friday, “Obviously, they’ve taken a huge hit this year. And it’s not just with Jay; it’s in other places. I mean, they have quality new shows like ‘Community’ and ‘Parks and Recreation,’ but not enough people are watching them. You’d think that they’d be kicking ass from 8 o’clock-10 o’clock because that’s all they have to focus on, but they’re clearly not.”

NBC is struggling across the prime-time grid., losing 10% of its 18-49-year-old audience from last season, when it also finished in last place among the Big Four networks (which also includes CBS, Fox and ABC).

According to this Madison Avenue exec, “we can’t pin this all on Jay Leno.” But certainly, having far fewer viewers tuning in at 10 o’clock each night to see NBC promos for say, ‘Heroes’ or ‘Mercy’ or ’30 Rock’ has taken its toll.

And not only are these viewers not seeing what’s on the channel the rest of the week, they’re also not around to watch the 11 o’clock news on NBC’s affiliate stations… which in turn, feeds the Conan O’Brien-hosted ‘Tonight Show,’ which is only a ratings shell compared to the ‘Letterman’-stomping powerhouse Leno’s ‘Tonight’ used to be.

“I’m not pleased with what Leno is doing. I don’t think anybody is,” said Craig Allison, vice president and general manager of KSHB in Kansas City, Mo., to the L.A. Times. “I don’t think any NBC affiliate wanted to wake up in the fall with a weaker lead-in to their late news.”

But back prime time, where creatively troubled shows like ‘Heroes’ and ‘Trauma’ have been thrown to the wolves, and series with significant potential (‘Community,’ anyone?) don’t draw nearly as big of an audience as we think they should, the thing that has widely come to be known as the “Leno Effect” extends beyond just NBC and its stations.

Indeed, neither of the two networks still programming dramas at 10 p.m. are seeing the benefit of an NBC refugee rush. CBS is down 3% in the key adult demo during the hour, with shows like ‘The Mentalist,’ a hit last season, now floundering. ABC, meanwhile, is flat, but is seeing new shows like ‘Eastwick’ totally ignored.

In total viewers during the 10 o’clock hour, CBS is up slightly 4%, while ABC is down 6%. They’ve received absolutely no upside from the Leno Effect.

All told, the Big Four networks are down 2% in prime time this year.

“I don’t think anybody is going to say having Jay Leno at the 10 o’clock hour has been a positive,” summed up television business analyst Bill Carroll.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Cable, for one, seems to be benefiting at 10 o’clock.

For example, riding the big hog of a great second season, FX’s ‘Sons of Anarchy’ has nearly doubled its adult demo audience at 10 o’clock. In fact, with 4.3 million viewers tuning in last month to see Henry Rollins wreak havoc in Charming during the premiere, ‘Sons’ is now growing at a pace faster than even ‘The Shield.’

Still, while the Leno Effect can be felt across your DVR channel guide, NBC seems committed to staying the course, at least until ‘The Jay Leno Show’ can be proven directly unprofitable.

Speaking on a conference call earlier in the month, Keith Sherin, chief financial officer for NBC’s parent company, General Electric, bafflingly told investors, “Four weeks in, ‘The Jay Leno Show’ is exceeding our ratings estimates, as are Conan and Fallon. So we’re happy with the 10 o’clock and late-night performance.”

For his part, Leno seems dug in too, telling Broadcasting & Cable, “Would I have preferred to stay at 11:30? Yeah, sure. I would have preferred that. I think it’s too soon to say whether I regret anything or not….My thing is, I did The Tonight Show for 17 years, that’s what I did. It’s like the America’s Cup; you won it, they can’t take it away from you. So now you try this and you see what happens. Do I enjoy the battle? Yes, I get a certain amount of satisfaction from pounding my head against the wall.”

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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