Getting Digital: Why Jimmy Kimmel Will Rule Late-Night TV in 2013

Jay Leno is still the king of late-night television, but for how long? The battle for night-owl TV watchers in America will get interesting at the start of 2013, when ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” will move to the 11:35 p.m. EST slot, pitting Kimmel in a showdown with NBC’s “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and the current number two, CBS’ “Late Show with David Letterman.”

The news for late-night comedians is dire: Nielsen ratings show a steady decrease among all of the Big Three TV networks’ programs in August 2012, as compared to the numbers from the 2011-2012 broadcast season (September 2011 – May 2012). The decision to make Kimmel’s show earlier is due to the 3 percent growth of his total viewership, the only late-night broadcast talk show to do so in the 2011-2012 season, ABC reports. The spot Kimmel will take is currently occupied by “Nightline,” which regularly competes well with “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” although Kimmel may draw more viewers in the younger age sets, which will be a boon for ABC to sell advertising.

In a similar vein as the popular Comedy Central program “Tosh.0,” Kimmel has taken to YouTube to engage his audience with great success. In one notable example, Kimmel issues a “YouTube Challenge,” which in the past has included Kimmel encouraging parents to tell their kids that all the Halloween candy had been eaten. Hilarity ensues, and the parents capture the results on video. The best submissions are edited together, and the product often goes viral—the Halloween candy clip has nearly 32 million hits on YouTube.

Kimmel simply being younger and more tech-savvy may be the key to his success among the late-night heavyweights. Leno also has Internet-related pieces, such as videos found on YouTube, quirky items on eBay, and worst-selling Amazon products. Conversely, Letterman has very few bits that rely on web engagement, and his viewership may be suffering as a result. In August 2012, Letterman’s Nielsen ratings almost dropped to Kimmel’s level, despite Kimmel being on at a later time. Another young comedian who has the potential to shake things up in the late-night scene is Jimmy Fallon in NBC’s “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” yet his show airs after Leno’s, which seems harmful—Fallon’s viewership steadily declined through August 2012. May the funniest comedian win, and hopefully he can bring some new laughs and new eyes to the frequently stale late-night TV shows.

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