Conan O'Brien Watchers Are Loyal, at Least

Last Updated Jul 23, 2009 11:44 AM EDT

We've examined the late-night TV wars from many different vantage points over the last few months, and now I'll add this: that people who watch Conan O'Brien are more loyal to him than they are to a particular show. While not so shocking it will make you fall off your chair, it's another demonstration of the fact that if NBC wanted to attract younger viewers to "The Tonight Show", it's now got them via a transfusion of former "Late Night" viewers, even if it has sacrificed raw audience volume as a result.

According to research conducted by media promotion firm Simulmedia, the usual spread between viewership of the "The Tonight Show" vs. viewership of "Late Night", has widened since NBC's intricate game of musical talk-show hosts began, with Jay Leno giving up the "Tonight Show" chair to O'Brien, and O'Brien giving up the "Late Night" chair to Jimmy Fallon. As compared with January -- the last month before the changes occurred -- those in the study watched one-half an episode more in June of "Tonight" than they did of "Late Night." Simulmedia's Stewart Hauser says this data gets at the issue of whether viewers in general are more loyal to media brands than they are to dayparts. I'd add that as time-shifting becomes more and more a habit, we'll find that people just want to watch what they want to watch, and will watch it whenever they damn well please.

As a somewhat loopy aside, all of this chair-shifting also shows that millions of Americans may be getting to bed earlier. When Leno first announced he was going to be on at 10 p.m., he remarked that he often heard from fans that they'd love to watch him, but his show was on too late at 11:35 p.m. Now, Conan viewers are watching their favorite talk-show host earlier, going to bed at a far more reasonable (though still late), 12:30 or so. I guess this should be considered good news.