Conan Tops Leno in DVR Viewing

Time-shifted viewing is giving Conan O’Brien a leg up on the competition, but Jay Leno is still holding a slim lead over his flame-haired rival when the crucial C3 metric is brought to bear on the late-night ratings.

According to Nielsen live-plus-seven-day data, TBS’ 11 p.m. chat show Conan is beating all comers in the core demos, averaging 1.44 million adults 18-49 and 930,000 viewers 18-34. When a week’s worth of DVR viewing was factored in to the late-night numbers, Conan bested NBC’s Tonight Show With Jay Leno by 7 percent among the 18-49 demo and CBS’ Late Show With David Letterman by 25 percent.

From Nov. 8, the date of Conan’s launch, through Dec. 30, 2010, Leno averaged 1.35 million L7 viewers in his 11:35 p.m. time slot, while Letterman drew 1.15 million. In head-to-head competition, Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart averaged 1.06 million L7 viewers at 11 p.m.

That said, Leno still leads Conan in the race that matters most to advertisers. Per Nielsen C3 ratings—the standard metric guaranteed by the networks––the Tonight Show averaged 1.21 million adults 18-49 in that same eight-week span, while Conan drew 1.17 million members of the target demo.

Adopted in 2007, C3 ratings provide measurement for average commercial minutes in live programming plus three days of DVR playback.

As one might expect, the DVR has also given Conan a boost among the 18-34 set. According to the L7 data, the TBS program eclipsed the rest of the late-night firmament, averaging 930,000 viewers 18-34. That marks a 62 percent improvement over The Daily Show’s L7 deliveries (574,000) in the same period.

On the C3 front, Conan easily out-classed Stewart, Leno, et al., serving up an average 750,000 viewers 18-34. The Tonight Show took second place (422,000), while The Daily Show grabbed the bronze with 366,000 viewers.

Among both demos, time-shifted viewing has accounted for 25 percent of Conan’s nightly deliveries. The median age for Conan viewers is 33, as is its lead-out The George Lopez Show. E!’s Chelsea Lately boasts a median age of 35, while Comedy Central’s Colbert Report (39) and The Daily Show (42) are slightly greyer. Letterman and Leno attract the oldest crowd, with both drawing a median age of 56.

Naturally, the C3 and L7 numbers also reflect Conan’s “new car smell.” The program bowed to a whopping 3.29 million adults 18-49 and 2.45 million viewers 18-34, and has since settled down into a far more predictable (if not still impressive) groove.

Turner execs believe the show still has room to grow. “Conan is just getting started on TBS, but it has already proven to be a huge success in attracting a young, loyal audience,” said Michael Wright, executive vp and head of programming for TBS, TNT and Turner Classic Movies). “Conan is number-one with key demos, and we are thrilled that the show is even younger than expected.”