Media Buyers Perplexed by Timing of 'Tonight Show' Shuffle

With Fallon in '14, NBC Fixes the Only Part of Its Schedule That's Not Broken: Late Night

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A correction has been made in this story. See below for details.

NBC wants to bring in Jimmy Fallon to replace Jay Leno as host of the "Tonight Show" in spring 2014. But did it flub the timing?

Jimmy Fallon and Jay Leno perform a duet about the changes at 'The Tonight Show'
Jimmy Fallon and Jay Leno perform a duet about the changes at 'The Tonight Show' Credit: NBC

Media buyers suggest the Peacock Network should have waited until it cleaned up the rest of its schedule before rejiggering one of its only successful dayparts. "NBC is not No. 1 in morning, it's down in daytime and evening news, and struggling in prime time. Late night is its only advantage," said Marc Morse, senior VP-national buying at RJ Palmer. "I don't think they need to pre-sell the change a year-and-a-half in advance."

"Advertisers are concerned, with Matt Lauer potentially out at the 'Today' show, and NBC prime time having all of these problems and holes in its schedule, the announcement comes when they are already on shaky ground," said Billie Gold, VP-research and programming at Carat. "It's a bad time."

While Mr. Leno has been slowly losing share in the 18-to-49 demographic to personalities like ABC's Jimmy Kimmel and Comedy Central's Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, he is still the most-watched in late night.

The rest of NBC can't say the same thing. The broadcaster took a hit in ratings earlier this year when "Sunday Night Football" ended and "The Voice" took a break, becoming the first Big Four broadcaster ever to come in fifth place during February sweeps behind Univision.

And late night is an important daypart for both NBC and advertisers. "It offers an adult viewership at a price considerably less expensive than prime time and ratings that are typically three to four times that of cable," said Peter Knobloch, chief Investment Officer at Maxxcom Global Media and CEO of RJ Palmer.

Buyers anticipate bringing in Mr. Fallon will lower the average age of the late-night viewer, though Todd Gordon, exec VP-U.S. director, MagnaGlobal, said his program does not skew that much younger than Mr. Leno's. (He didn't disclose the difference.)

Will NBC seek the same CPMs -- cost per 1,000 viewers -- for Mr. Fallon as it did for Mr. Leno? According to Gary Carr, senior VP-national broadcast at TargetCast, CPMs dropped somewhat when Conan O'Brien succeeded Mr. Leno.

"NBC has a very sellable commodity in Fallon and thinks there is a real upside there, so will ask for more," said Mr. Knobloch. "However, on the flip side, there's going to be a waiting period before we find out whether or not Fallon will actually be able to deliver from a ratings standpoint. And buyers still reeling from the disaster that took place with Conan O'Brien will likely be a little more conservative this time around."

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said CPMs dropped when Mr. Leno took over "The Tonight Show" from Mr. Carson. The CPMs instead dipped when Mr. O'Brien took over for Mr. Leno.

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