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Jay Leno’s Last Stand vs. The Jimmy Fallon Takeover: How They Stack Up on Social

unnamedJimmy Fallon is entering the legendary Tonight Show time slot with guns blazing thanks to a successful five-year run as the host of Late Night, a proven record of creating deliciously viral content which spreads like wildfire across social media, and an industry reputation as “A Tonight Show Host Who Speaks YouTube”.

Fallon has been tapped as a host who can appeal to a younger audience, convincing them to sit down in front of the TV at a specific time (an increasing rarity), while simultaneously engaging them with social media and active digital content.

The question is, can he live up to the hype? Will enough people dig into this expanding pupu platter of content?

Meanwhile, Jay Leno just saw himself out after over twenty years as The Tonight Show’s host.  His final Tonight Show episode and Fallon’s first have a lot in common: a constant flow of superstar guests, high-caliber musical performances and sincere, emotional monologues from the respective hosts. Where did the episodes differ? Well, let’s start with Twitter engagement.


Screenshot 2014-02-20 10.32.44

At the beginning of Leno’s last hurrah on Thursday, January 6, his name peaked at 15,668 Twitter mentions per hour.

On Monday, February 17, Fallon took over Leno’s desk at The Tonight Show. At midnight ET, he received a peak volume of 25,640 Twitter mentions per hour. That’s a big difference, and a good indicator of where the younger audience’s interest lies.


Facebook Competitive Analysis   Simply Measured

These are stats pulled from Simply Measured’s Facebook Competitive Analysis Report based on 2/1/2014 through 2/19/2014 for the official The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon fan pages. Fallon blows Leno out of the water on this social media platform with more posts, more often than average, rich visual content, and a much larger fan pool.


As you might guess, Jimmy Fallon clocks in at 1.2 million followers (and growing) on the mobile photo-sharing network, while Leno had virtually no Instagram presence while on-air.


Finally, let’s take a look at YouTube, the grand mechanism for transforming video content from popular to ubiquitous.

The Tonight Show With Jay Leno went off the air with 131,007 subscribers, while The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon boasts 2,130,256 to date (after only being on the air for a few days).

Leno’s most viewed video was “Pumpcast News, Part 1″ with 23,558,309 views, while Fallon’s most viewed video is his #Hashtag comedy sketch with Justin Timberlake (disclaimer: this hails from his Late Night days), which acts out what a Twitter conversation would sound like in real life and clocks in at a comparable 21,701,985 views.

Let’s Talk Ratings

Of course, it’s also important to consider what the Nielsen Scale—TV’s traditional measurement tool—is showing us. There are some expecteds.  Jimmy Fallon’s first episode on The Tonight Show won the highest TV ratings of late-night, with a 7.1 viewership on the Nielsen scale and 9-10 million people tuning in. That’s much higher than Fallon’s previous Late Night ratings, and more than double Leno’s ratings in his penultimate week on the air.

But here’s the surprise: in the match-up between Fallon’s first Tonight Show and Leno’s last, Leno was the clear winner when it came to viewership with a 9.2 Nielsen rating.

The Verdict

Leno experienced a one-night surge and went out in style thanks to nostalgia’s pull and the power of goodbye, but Fallon is on the right track to dominate the late-night landscape with an active social media presence and dual-platform partnering between the traditional TV format and strong second screen engagement.

Now, any social media analyst worth her salt loves when breaking news supports completed research, so when this tweet came down the pipeline today—a great indicator of how the Tonight Show is wasting no time bulking up its digital presence and communicating that via social media—we were thrilled. And after playing around with its easy-to-use interface and features like within-app tweeting to guests, direct access to video content and hashtag-oriented contests, we’re pretty sure that Fallon’s team came to win.


Lucy Hitz

I’m the Head of Marketing Communications here at Simply Measured, where I'm responsible for our content program, social media marketing, PR, and comarketing ventures. I love yoga, The X-Files, peaty scotch, hiking, and poetry. If I were a social media channel, I’d want to be Instagram, but I think I’m Twitter.

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