's Misleading & Biased Leno/conan Ratings Coverage's Misleading & Biased Leno/Conan Ratings Coverage

As a fan of both Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien, I’ve been following news about “The Tonight Show” saga. For the record, I’m with Team Coco, but I’m not going to let that cloud my analysis. Lately, I’ve stumbled upon a series of misleading and biased articles by regarding “The Tonight Show” ratings. They claim that not only are Leno’s current ratings for “The Tonight Show” following a similar trend to Conan’s, but it’s also starting to dip below it. Those guys are able to make Conan’s Nielsens rating of 2.5 last year seem higher than Leno’s current 4.0, which, for practical purposes, is just wrong.

It all started with their meaningless analysis showing how Leno’s ratings trajectory after reclaiming the Tonight Show was similar to Conan’s for the first seven weeks for each of their respective shows; therefore, this ratings trend is bad for Leno. Here’s why this is a stat with no relevance - pretty much every new debut of ANY new show follows that trajectory. Most debuts or premieres, because of their initial marketing and hype, will debut with higher numbers, and then gradually settle down. What they failed to note was that Conan’s show had a significantly steeper drop in the first seven weeks than Leno’s. Going by TVByTheNumbers’s chart for the 18-49 demograhic, Conan went from 2.3 to about 1, a 56% drop; Leno went from 1.5 to about 1.1, a 27% drop. Now that’s something noteworthy, but instead, they chose to focus on the meaningless trajectory that pretty much every new show follows.

The last straw for me was when they started claiming that Conan’s ratings last year are actually higher than Leno’s current ratings, and other unsuspecting publications like the New York Post and Fox News started picking it up and blindly spreading these misleading claims.

The site’s able to make Conan’s 2.5 rating seem higher than Leno’s 4 by focusing on the 18-49 demo, which heavily favors Conan. The average age of Conan’s viewers is 46; Leno's is 56. Focusing on the 18-49 demo would include most of Conan's viewers, but exclude a majority of Leno's older viewers. In spite of that, Leno’s still able to nearly tie Conan’s ratings in that age group.

The site conspicuously ignored Leno’s stronger 25-54 demo, which NBC claims is just as important , if not more important, as the 18-49 demo because it’s more affluent. I’m sure if TVByTheNumbers takes a look at ratings for that older demo, Leno would crush Conan, and the huge gap in overall viewership between the two (Leno's 4 to Conan's 2.5) will be magnified. Speaking of overall viewership, that’s another stat the authors consistently ignored in their analysis.

Of course, when a seemingly doomed show with sliding numbers based on the 18-49 demo was renewed, these guys finally pulled out the elusive stats for the 25-54 demo to explain why. The author notes: “This is a case where the focus on 18-49, where ‘Men of a Certain Age’ didn’t rank in the top 50, might not matter so much. I will be mindful to consider the 25-54 results in any future analysis.” That was written in January 2010. Obviously, they’ve forgotten.

Leno’s ratings for “The Tonight Show” is currently settling in around 4, which is significantly higher than Conan’s 2.5 average last year (excluding peaks during the first and last couple shows). Focusing on the 18-49 demo favoring Conan and ignoring the overall rating plus the 25-54 demo favoring Leno paints a misleading and incomplete picture. This slicing and dicing of the numbers to support a misleading claim is just bad and irresponsible reporting. Now, you got the New York Post reporting on a false claim, and Fox News reporting on the reporting of a false claim. If you do a search for “Leno Conan” on Google News, there’s more. Pretty soon, you’re going to have people actually believing that Conan was getting higher ratings than either Leno or Letterman (according to TVByTheNumbers). If Conan was TRULY beating both of them, he would still be hosting “The Tonight Show.”

Not the First Time They Screwed Up Focusing on the 18-49 Demo:’s Leno/Conan/Letterman Ratings Coverage:

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