Conan Re-Enters Late Night, Where Ratings Patterns Are No Longer Sacred

Welcome to chaos, Conan! As TBS ramps up the promotion for tonight's debut of Conan, the one-hour 11 p.m. show that puts erstwhile Tonight Show host Conan O'Brien back on the map, the host and its network will find they are entering a late-night landscape that is quite different than it was the last time Conan O'Brien was in the time slot, a mere eight months ago. The story is in the ratings:
In other words, if O'Brien has any concern about whether being on cable is going to harm his ratings, it's, at least, a diminishing concern, especially if you're aiming for 18-49, which his show is. Advertisers are taking notice too. As part of its PR push, TBS happily trumpeted last week that it has succeeded in getting prices for ads on par with what the broadcast nets charge for their shows.

What happens from here? We could see the first instance in which, at least in 18-49, there are several programs which routinely beat their network counterparts. The Daily Show, and its counterpart, The Colbert Report, are both on a post-election, post-rally roll, and Conan will no doubt siphon some viewers away from Letterman and Leno because it will be more attuned to a younger demographic.

Of course, the focus that advertisers and networks have on 18-49 -- at the expense of other demos which actually watch shows and buy stuff -- is a bit specious. Nonetheless, should we find that six months from now, due to O'Brien, Stewart and Colbert, cable is dominating broadcast in that demo once the clock strikes 11 p.m., it will be a milestone anyway.

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