Jon Stewart
Jon Stewart: 'unique voice and vision'

Jon Stewart is leaving The Daily Show, the satirical Comedy Central news programme that he has turned into a staple of cutting political comedy since taking the host’s chair in 1999.

Mr Stewart announced his departure on Tuesday. The Viacom-owned cable network said he would continue to host the show until later this year. “Through his unique voice and vision, The Daily Show has become a cultural touchstone for millions of fans and an unparalleled platform for political comedy that will endure for years to come,” said Michele Ganeless, president of Comedy Central.

Under Mr Stewart’s watch, the talk show has become an influential force in comedy, late-night television and even politics, with politicians and candidates for office regularly appearing as guests. As audiences for traditional broadcast and cable news have grown smaller and older, The Daily Show attracts young viewers, many of whom rate it as more trustworthy than the news shows it parodies.

Mr Stewart, who also serves as executive producer and writer for the show, has mentored a number of other comedians who have gone on to host their own shows, including Stephen Colbert and John Oliver. Mr Colbert left Comedy Central last year and will take over late night duties from David Letterman at CBS later this year. Mr Oliver left The Daily Show to host a weekly satirical news show on HBO.

The departure of one of Viacom’s biggest stars comes as the media company, controlled by billionaire Sumner Redstone, is under pressure amid declining ratings and advertising revenues at its cable channels, which include MTV and Nickelodeon. Its networks, which are aimed at younger viewers, have been particularly hard hit by changing media consumption habits, including increased use of digital devices, time-shifted viewing and competition from online content on YouTube, Netflix and Amazon.

Viacom argues that the industry’s current metrics for measuring audiences — the basis on which advertising is sold — undercounts its reach because it does not reflect the variety of ways people watch television today.

The industry’s standard metric of viewership among 18 to 49-year-olds — the prime advertising demographic — of Comedy Central fell 6 per cent last year, according to analysis of Nielsen data by MoffettNathanson. Other Viacom networks MTV, Nickelodeon, Nick at Night, TV Land and BET all posted double-digit declines.

Viacom’s share price has fallen nearly 16 per cent in the past six months.

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