Jon Stewart is coming back to a much-changed audience from when he last regularly hosted “The Daily Show.”
Mike Coppola/Getty Images.
Welcome back to TV, Jon Stewart.
It’s gotten pretty gnarly since you were here.
Monday evening marks Stewart’s return to “The Daily Show” — a program that meant a lot to a lot of people — including me — back in its heyday. But since Stewart left in 2015, the show’s audience has gotten very small, and very old.
When I pointed this out last month, I took pains to say that what has happened to “The Daily Show” has happened to conventional TV — “linear TV,” as the industry calls it — in general: Multiple generations have either stopped paying for TV or have never paid for it at all. Some of them are spending time with streamers like Netflix; others are fully engrossed in YouTube and TikTok. A lot of people are doing both.
Which means that the remaining people who are watching TV are a shrinking and aging group.
But not everyone reads closely, so some people seemed to think I was writing about the particulars of “The Daily Show” — or Trevor Noah, Stewart’s successor.
Nope! So here, to spell it out, are three charts from Nielsen showing the decline of prime-time TV, the decline of late-night TV, and the fact that the people who still watch conventional TV are … not young.
Big picture: Conventional TV used to attract 103 million people a night back in 2015. Now, that number has shrunk to 57 million. Meanwhile, the median age of TV viewers has gone from 51 to 62.
Here’s what has happened to average viewership across prime-time TV — including both broadcast and cable networks — since 2015. Pay particular attention to the orange line, which represents TV’s youngest adult viewers:
And here’s what that looks like for late night, where Stewart is opening up shop again:
And here’s what’s happening to the median age of TV’s remaining viewers:
Again: Not surprising, if you ever think about this stuff. But still wild to see it laid out.
Now we’ll see what happens to Stewart, and his fans, against this background.