In the two months since former Comedy Central host replaced David Letterman on CBS's The Late Show in early September, Stephen Colbert has been losing ground to Jimmy Kimmel on ABC and NBC's Jimmy Fallon, a drop that has sent him to third place in late-night viewers, according to The Great Late-Night Poll conducted by measurement firm Penn Schoen Berland for The Hollywood Reporter.
According to lead pollster Jon Penn, Colbert has brought his emphasis on left-wing politics to a much larger audience, a strategy that both Kimmel and Fallon usually struggle to avoid. However, “viewers want to be entertained and informed, which would expand the influx of political guests.”
"On the political spectrum, they are the 'swing' in between the more conservative-leaning Kimmel and the more liberal-leaning Colbert viewers," Penn said.
However, Joe Concha of the Mediaite website noted that the liberal comedian “has successfully alienated self-described Republicans. … And with the country as polarized as it is, the host is thereby saying goodbye to half his potential audience, which can’t be a sound business model.”
On the other hand, the CBS late-night host has been able to retain a good chunk of his core audience acquired from his weeknight stint on the Comedy Central cable channel, the lead pollster said, and his audience “is filled with wealthy, socially liberal men who overwhelmingly support legalizing marijuana and want Bernie Sanders to be president.”
According to the online survey conducted of 1,000 late-night viewers between Nov. 6 and Nov. 10, 47 percent of Colbert's audience are Democrats, and among their favorite shows are Family Guy, Game of Thrones, South Park, The Walking Dead and Doctor Who.
Otherwise, the poll was split equally between men and women, and those contacted varied in age from 18 to 65 years old.
Colbert's viewers skew young and male, with most viewers coming in the highly important demographic of 18- to 54-year-olds. Only 17 percent of his audience is Republican, while 33 percent of Kimmel's viewers come from the GOP.
Fallon is the host who has benefited most from the departure of David Letterman. According to the poll, 48 percent of Fallon viewers are married, 36 percent are Democrats, and their alcohol of choice is a tie between beer and wine, according to the Penn Schoen Berland poll. Fallon also draws in a higher proportion of female viewers, 55 percent, than Colbert or Kimmel.
Nevertheless, Concha declared: “For Stephen Colbert, the late-night honeymoon appears to be over.”
The Mediaite editor asserted that this “dose of reality” is a result of the fact that other than his opening week, Colbert has been beaten “every week with plenty of room to spare.”
“That’s not to say Colbert has disappointed anyone at the Tiffany Network,” the Mediaite reporter stated, since the CBS host has regularly finished a solid second ahead of Kimmel in both total viewers and the demo in September and much of October.
Meanwhile, Penn stated: “Fallon is the host who has benefited most from the departure of David Letterman.”
According to the poll, 48 percent of Fallon viewers are married, 36 percent are Democrats and their alcohol of choice is a tie between beer and wine,
Fallon also draws in a higher proportion of female viewers, 55 percent, than Colbert or Kimmel.
“Most importantly for Colbert,” Concha noted, “he’s found a niche in offering what the Jimmys can’t really offer (particularly Fallon): consistent political satire and more substantive interviews with big political guests.”
“But therein lies the rub,” Concha continued. “Most sit-downs with politicians don’t exactly result in riveting television (outliers like Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton to a lesser extent notwithstanding. And Colbert has shown almost no willingness to hit both sides of the aisle even close to equally.”
As a result, only 17 percent of Colbert's viewers are Republicans, while attracting 47 percent of those who identify as Democrats, a 30-point gap, Concha stressed.
“But more liberals watch late-night TV than stuffy, old conservatives, right?” he asked. “Guess again. In Kimmel’s case, the split is 34 percent Democrats, 33 percent Republicans. In Fallon’s, it’s 36-31 Democrats.”
“Why so even?” Concha asked. “Because Kimmel and Fallon go through great lengths to be apolitical,” while Colbert's commentary centers on “how stupid/awful/inept Republicans are.”
“Colbert is Colbert,” he continued. “And that’s fine on Comedy Central, even downright expected. But network TV? Not so much….”
“Stephen Colbert now drops to third place,” Concha concluded, “a result about as predictable as whom and what his political targets will be during each night.”