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Viewership Deep Dive: Late Night Shows Are Back with ‘WFH’ Formats

The coronavirus pandemic has upended much of the traditional TV ecosystem, including live sports. But at least one temporarily frozen realm of programming has begun to unthaw: late night TV. With many studios closed and no audiences in attendance, hosts are switching to home-based workarounds, broadcasting live from their personal domains and bringing guests in via video conferencing.

This week, various late night shows returned with “WFH” episodes, including CBS’s The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live!, NBC’s Late Night with Seth Meyers, TBS’s Conan and Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen. (Because The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon shifted to a hybrid format last week, we're leaving it out of this discussion of newly rebooted shows that all returned on March 30).

Related: Daytime, Cable News Get Boost as TV Watching Booms 

We were curious about how minute-by-minute viewership may shift given the new formats, so we used data from Inscape.tv, the TV data company with glass-level insights from a panel of more than 14 million smart TVs, to do a comparison.

Looking at minute-by-minute tune-in, viewership of the new episodes of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,Jimmy Kimmel Live! and Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen all spiked at the beginning and steadily decreased — roughly the same pattern observed during previous, pre-coronavirus shows.

But the audience for Late Night with Seth Meyers stayed tuned in for the majority of the March 30 broadcast, dipping a little towards the end — a bit of a change from the last in-studio show, which saw a steady decrease after the first third of the episode.

Conan saw slight minute-by-minute declines during his March 30 show, but not quite as drastic as the dips during his last regular show on March 12.

Inscape also examined viewership crossover on March 30 for these shows. (A note about methodology: You have to do more than just flip past a station with your remote to count as a “crossover viewer” in Inscape’s system. For the data below, the minimum viewing threshold is 10 minutes.)

It’s important to note that some of these shows have overlapping airtime: Conan and Watch What Happens Live both start at 11 p.m. while Colbert airs just after 11:30 p.m.; Jimmy Kimmel begins shortly after midnight, while Seth Meyers starts slightly after 12:30 a.m. So that being said, here are some highlights:

  • The highest crossover: 8.8% of Seth Meyers viewers watched at least 10 minutes of Colbert, while 5.1% of Colbert viewers also checked out Seth Meyers.
  • The lowest crossover rates were between the broadcast shows and Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live, with only slightly higher crossover for Conan.
  • Of the Watch What Happens Live viewers, 1.9% also checked out Colbert.
  • For Conan, the highest crossover rate (3.2%) was with Colbert.

Adjusting the date range to capture the final regular shows before the studios shut down, the biggest difference is for Colbert viewers, the highest crossover was with Jimmy Kimmel, not Seth Meyers — the reverse of what happened on March 30. There was also a shift in What What Happens Live, with the biggest crossover there going to Jimmy Kimmel vs. on March 30, the biggest crossover going to Colbert