As a “millennial” (roughly speaking, someone between the ages of 18 and 29), I’ve grown used to being tarred with fallacious accusations. We millennials are spoiled and mollycoddled! (Nope.) We’re tech-obsessives who would never even think of picking up something as fuddy duddy as a book! (Wrong again.) We’re irredeemable narcissists! (‘Fraid not.)
Today’s meme is that we millennials are utterly devastated by Jon Stewart’s announcement that he will be leaving The Daily Show next year. “What Walter Cronkite was to an earlier generation — an utterly trusted voice — Stewart has been to millennials,” writes Don Aucoin of the Boston Globe. Stewart has “hordes of millennial fans,” reports CNN. “For people under 30,” says the Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty, “Jon Stewart leaving the Daily Show is the equivalent of the Beatles breaking up.” (And Tumulty should know – she was born in 1955.)
Now one thing we millennials supposedly love is “data journalism.” So let’s back up and see whether there exists any data to back up Tumulty et al.’s claims that we millennials have just suffered a loss on par with the demise of the Lennon-McCartney partnership.
As of 2013, The Daily Show was bringing in approximately 2 million nightly viewers. And according to an exhaustive Pew Survey from 2012, 39 percent of The Daily Show’s regular viewers are between the ages of 18 and 29. That means that approximately 780,000 millennials are regular Daily Show watchers. In the United States, there are 53 million people between the ages of 18 and 29. That means that a whopping 1.5 percent of millennials watch the Daily Show regularly! Let’s be generous and assume that, say, 5 million people watch The Daily Show even occasionally. That would still mean a paltry 1.95 million out of 53 million millennials are Stewart fans.
That’s not all. According to Bill Carter, then of the New York Times, the average Daily Show viewer is 41 years old. Considering other cable shows alone, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Archer, American Horror Story, and Louie all have significantly younger audiences than does Stewart. And here’s my favorite nugget: 9 percent of the regular viewers of the nightly evening news – long derided as the news source of the geriatric set – are between the ages of 18 and 29. About 22 million people watch the nightly news. Thus, nearly 2 million millennials are regular viewers of the nightly evening news. That’s right: more than twice as many millennials watch Brian Williams, Scott Pelley, et al, than watch The Daily Show.
In other words, the great millennial following of The Daily Show is a total myth. Perhaps Stewart can “destroy” it on tonight’s broadcast.