The person who can bring big audience numbers will fill the 'Late Late' chair


MEDIA & MARKETING: The ‘ Late Late’ is too important a source of revenue for RTÉ to take any chances

DURING HIS many years in the host’s chair on The Late Late Show, Pat Kenny has come in for his fair share of criticism from TV critics. But nobody can deny that he has maintained the show’s stranglehold on the Friday night television schedule.

Every week, the show ranks among the top five programmes of the week and last year’s season reached 92 per cent of all adults and 95 per cent of housekeepers. For advertisers who want to reach a mass market, the Late Lateis the place to be seen.

With Kenny having announced that he is to step down from the hot seat when the current season concludes in May, RTÉ bosses have to decide on who is going to replace him. The front-runners are Prime Timepresenter Miriam O’Callaghan, who has been blooded for the role with her own summer chat show, and Ryan Tubridy, whose Saturday night chat show is a ratings topper too.

Both presenters would be a safe pair of hands for the Late Late, which in 2007/2008 attracted an average audience of 640,000 viewers each week. But although the Late Late has a mass audience, it hasn’t escaped the effects of the advertising slump.

There has been more talk and less advertising on the current series and, unlike Tubridy Tonight, the current season of the show doesn’t have a sponsor.

That’s partly due to the ageing profile of the audience. According to Mark Lynch, director of the ad agency Vizeum, five years ago 44 per cent of the Late Lateaudience was aged under 44.

Now that proportion is down to 35 per cent, so advertisers targeting parents with young children, for instance, are buying a lot of wastage on Late Lateslots.

While Miriam O’Callaghan probably has more appeal to greying viewers, who are the show’s majority audience, the view from some adland executives is that the wittier Tubridy would be a better pick to win back younger viewers who have deserted the show.

Dave Harland, chief executive of Omnicom Media Group, describes The Late Late Showas the “cornerstone” of RTÉ’s programming schedule.

“The success of that show has a knock-on effect through the organisation. The Late Late Showis too important a source of revenue for RTÉ for it to take any chances, and the station should play it safe and install Ryan Tubridy as presenter.

“Just like Pat Kenny and Gay Byrne before him, Tubridy has the advantage of a daily morning radio show which is an important vehicle for boosting audience numbers for the Late Late. If RTÉ moves Ryan Tubridy into the Late Late, then what does it do with the Saturday night slot? My suggestion would be a presenter like Seán Moncrieff.”

Stuart Fogarty, chief executive of ad agency McConnells, said: “Whether it’s Ryan Turbidy, Miriam O’Callaghan or even Britney Spears in the presenter’s chair doesn’t matter to advertisers, so long as the show delivers big audience numbers.

“Having said that, profile is important and Ryan Tubridy appeals to the 55-year-old mammy as well as the 25-year-old young woman, which is a big advantage. Miriam O’Callaghan might be seen to appeal to the older viewer and the question is would she be able to attract a younger audience.”

On the merits of Tubridy versus O’Callaghan, Liam McDonnell, chief executive of Aegis Media, believes Tubridy might “be the better bet to present the show on the basis that he appeals to younger viewers, which is the most valuable audience for advertisers”.

McDonnell added: “ The Late Late Showstill has a massive place in people’s hearts and delivers incredible coverage for a single ad spot for a new ad launch. With a new presenter, there is the opportunity to return the show to its glory days, when you weren’t quite sure what guests would turn up, or what controversy would unfold.”

However the omens aren’t good for Tubridy. RTÉ is believed to have declined a recent request from Tubridy to move his chat show to Friday night and revert the Late Lateback to its original Saturday night slot.

The other big beast in the RTÉ jungle is Gerry Ryan. Although bookies don’t rate his chances of taking over from Kenny, Vizeum’s Mark Lynch believes that Ryan could fit the bill. “When Gerry Ryan stood in for Kenny last October, there was a 30 per cent increase in the number of 25 to 44-year-olds who tuned in, and he managed to hold on to the older viewers too. Only the Late Latetoy show topped the ratings for Ryan’s Late Late.”

Mindshare chief executive Bill Kinlay, whose client the Sunday Times sponsors Tubridy Tonight, doesn’t believe the Late Late’sageing profile to be an issue because of its huge audience.

He said that so long as the new presenter continues to deliver all those viewers, advertisers will be happy. Kinlay’s view is that O’Callaghan would be a better draw than Tubridy for the Late Late’score audience. “Holding on to the audience the Late Latehas is important for advertisers,” he said.