Crisis at Comedy Central: Audience for Stewart, Colbert is getting older

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Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are Comedy Central's answer to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. But the fact that many of their fans know the classic 1969 Paul Newman-Robert Redford film may worry officials at the channel's corporate parent, Viacom Inc. (VIA).

According to
, the average age of viewers of The Daily Show rose five years to in May 41.4 years while the The Colbert Report attracted an audience with an average age of 38.3, according to data compiled by Nielsen. Viewership in the key 18 to 34 demographic fell 10 percent. Overall, viewership is up nine percent.

For New York-based Viacom, this is bad news.
Stewart and Colbert are not cheap talent. The Daily Show host also serves as one of the producers for Colbert's program. Comedy Central brass invests in theses shows to attract young, hip viewers who think they are too cool for late-night programming on the broadcast networks. Advertisers, who are pretty tight with their money even at the best of time, will continue to pay premium rates to appear on programs that attract younger viewers, especially young men, because they are extremely difficult to reach otherwise. That's why Time Warner Inc. (TWX) backs Adult Swim, a slate of goofy and occasionally tasteless late-night animation programming on Cartoon Network.

Even though the shows are not attracting the fraternity party crowd, Stewart and Colbert's crowd are spring chickens compared with their network counterparts. "The median age for The Late Show with David Letterman is 54. Tonight Show watchers (when Jay Leno was still hosting) hovered at around 55," according to

Though these ratings are far from disastrous, they are no doubt a concern for Viacom. Cable channels sell commercial time based on the audience they attract in the target demographic. Missing those targets usually means the network is on the hook for free commercial time on another show.

Viacom's choices are to dumb down their biggest hits or develop more programs to attract younger viewers. Of course, whatever the company does will be expertly mocked by Stewart and Colbert.
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