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Will NBC get Late Night Right?

Last week, the world watched as NBC’s late night fiasco turned a page. Conan is out, Jay is back and I think NBC redefined the term “between a rock and a hard place”. Hopefully the NBC media research group adjusted the projections methodology they used to estimate its Late Night lineup for Vancouver 2010 Olympics.

But did NBC get this right? Will Jay Leno deliver better performance and ratings than Conan O’Brien would have in the same time slot? My guess: No.

Conan’s audience was significantly younger than Jay’s audience. Younger audiences consume more media from more devices (through TV, TiVo, on the internet, mobile phones, Kindles, Tablets and more). By going with Jay Leno, NBC sticks with what they know works – broadcast television and conventional business thinking. But in just 5 years from now, the Late Show will probably be available on any and every screen (or device) you can think of. Conan’s younger audiences would have used their iPhones to watch more NBC content, Blackberries to download more NBC downloads and any other device to simply connect more to the NBC brand than compared to Jay’s older, more broadcast-based audience.

The TV viewing experience has moved to the web and ratings on television are no longer an adequate measure of performance. New media and new devices have changed all that. Just this week, Variety reported on Nielson’s plan to finally combine online and television video ratings in a single “extended screen” rating system. I wonder if this type of metric was even a consideration for NBC when they broke Conan’s contract two weeks ago.

What do you think? Is NBC’s decision going to pay off? Feel free to drop your comments about online television too…

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