Conan vs. Leno: Coco Must Go

I had mixed emotions when I tuned into Conan O’Brien’s last episode as the host of NBC’s Tonight Show a couple of Fridays ago.  However, my emotions quickly became "joyous and inspirational" as I listened to Conan, also known to his fans as Coco.  Conan mentioned how he was finally allowed to say anything he wanted about NBC and the debacle with Jay Leno over the Tonight Show spot.  Conan had nothing but kind words to say though.  He was grateful for his fans and for NBC making everything possible in his career of over 20 years as a writer on Saturday Night Live (SNL), host of the Late Night Show, and his short stint on the Tonight Show.  He claimed, "This should be a happy moment," and had encouraging words particularly for his younger audience to not be "cynical" in life.  Conan showed behind all of his goofy, off-the-wall humor, there is a genuine class act.

After listening to Conan’s words and watching a great show, I wondered if NBC was missing a piece of the picture.  We heard how Conan’s ratings were not meeting the target.  What were these ratings based on though?  Did NBC consider any digital ratings or performance?  How much of Conan’s audience fell into a younger demographic that might only watch episodes online?  Fortunately for me, I could quickly leverage Compete intelligence to peek into the digital world.

I leveraged Compete PRO to compare the age profiles for Conan and Leno’s respective websites hosted by NBC.  NBC.com redirects visitors to the following branded websites depicted in the chart.

My assumption that Conan catered to a younger audience was confirmed, but I was surprised by how much younger Conan skewed and how balanced Leno’s audience was.  Conan’s traffic really dropped off for those over 34.  In fact, 55% of Conan’s online audience was 34 years old or younger, while 55% of Leno’s online audience was older than 34.  As 63% of the US internet population is older than 34, a closer proportion also visited Leno’s website than compared to Conans’s audience.

Surely Conan’s traffic performance was better, since the younger audience might be more engaged online, right?  Well, I used Compete Pro to assess Conan and Leno’s traffic performance.  I was surprised to discover that Conan and Leno were dead even in Q4 2009 and Leno even attracted more unique visitors.

This chart highlights that Leno actually attracted 73% more unique visitors than Conan.  Conan’s fans visited slightly more frequently, and the hosts were dead even in terms of average stay per visit (just under 5 minutes).  As a result, Leno was able to attract more of the older than 34 segment and beat Conan in online traffic.

At least Leno’s online performance does support NBC’s decision to move him back to the Tonight Show.  I just hope for NBC’s sake that all the bad blood won’t stain Leno’s ability to step in.  It will be interesting to see how January’s online performance (when the debacle was at its peak) compares to Q4 2009.  Perhaps Conan’s final words will help smooth things over for NBC and Leno’s future.  Unfortunately for Conan, though I’m pretty sure he’ll land somewhere, the show must go on and Coco must go.