‘Nightline’ Wins 2011-2012 Season, As Overall Late Night Viewership Falls

By Chris Ariens 

For the third season running, “Nightline” was the #1 show in late night topping NBC’s “The Tonight Show” and CBS’s “The Late Show.” But as “Nightline” prepares for a late night shift, the show will likely see a drop-off in viewership with the hope of staying #1 against Jimmy Fallon on NBC and Craig Ferguson on CBS.

“Nightline” topped “The Tonight Show” with its largest A25-54 lead (+45,000) in 17 years – since the 1994-95 season. “Nightline” beat “The Late Show” by its largest margins in both Total Viewers (+728,000) and Adults 25-54 (+186,000) in 13 years – since the 1998-99 season.

In January, “Nightline” will move to 12:35pmET/11:35pmCT as “Jimmy Kimmel Live” gets the coveted timeslot after the late local news, going head-to-head with Jay Leno and David Letterman.


While “Nightline” gets the win, the show is down from the 2010-2011 season: down -6% in Total Viewers and -10% in both A25-54 and A18-49 viewers. But “Nightline” is not alone in seeing a drop-off. Collectively, year-over-year “Nightline,” Leno and Letterman are down -7% in total viewers and down -12% in both the A25-54 and A18-49 demos as cable programs and other media vie for consumer attention, especially among younger viewers. And the loss of younger viewers is not an anomaly: the shows are down -13% (A25-54) and -19% (A18-49) vs. the 2009-2010 season.

ABC’s ratings are based on a 25-minute broadcast, while CBS and NBC are based on approximately :50 minutes (prior to the final national commercial break of each program).

  • Averages for the 2011-2012 Season:
Show Network Total Viewers A25-54 A18-49
Nightline ABC 3.70M 1.44M 1.11M
Tonight Show NBC 3.64M 1.39M 1.07M
Late Show CBS 2.97M 1.25M 957K

The numbers for the week of Sept. 17 and the third quarter of 2012 show the downward trend as all three shows are down from their season averages. Not a good sign and likely another factor in ABC’s decision to move Kimmel up a half hour.

  • Averages for the week of Sept. 17, 2012:
Show Network Total Viewers A25-54 A18-49
Nightline ABC 3.52M 1.33M 960K
Tonight Show NBC 3.13M 1.15M 912K
Late Show CBS 2.89M 1.06M 802K

  • Averages for Q3 2012:
Show Network Total Viewers A25-54 A18-49
Nightline ABC 3.26M 1.21M 918K
Tonight Show NBC 3.46M 1.31M 1.04M
Late Show CBS 2.35M 925K 690K