November 10, 2006

TV News Gains Viewers on Election Night

Elelction Night Viewers (in millions)
ABC 9.7
CBS 6.3
Fox News 3.1
CNN 2.97

The tense Nov. 7 contest to see which party would control the U.S. Congress turned out to be—to borrow a phrase from a popular TV genre—pretty riveting reality programming. And there are some numbers to back that up. Preliminary election-night rating from Nielsen Media Research reveal that total viewership of the six main broadcast network and cable news outlets – ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC – was 31.4 million in prime time, up 19% compared to the 2002 midterm balloting.

ABC, which began its special election coverage at 9:30 pm and had the highly-rated “Dancing with the Stars” as a lead-in, won the night with an average of 9.7 million viewers NBC, which began its election special at 10 p.m., was second with an audience of 7 million. CBS, with its newly minted anchor Katie Couric at the helm of its 10 o’clock show, registered 6.3 million viewers.

On cable, between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m., Fox News led the way with an average of 3.1 million viewers. CNN was a close second in the period with 2.97 million viewers and MSNBC, with 1.97 million, was third. But those numbers represented a competitive improvement for MSNBC, which generally attracts about half of CNN’s prime time audience and less than a third of Fox’s viewers.

Just as television had a relatively strong performance, some early measures of election-day traffic on the Internet also look impressive. Internet Broadcasting—a network that includes the web sites of 79 local stations around the country—recorded 3.5 million unique visitors on election day, according to WebTrends, which monitors web use. That’s a one-day high, according to WebTrends, which also reports that the stations’ sites attracted 24.8 million page views on Nov 7 — 50% more than they got on election night 2002.

There’s little doubt that media web sites have grown more sophisticated over the years and that television sites try to add a few viewer-friendly wrinkles in each election season. But just as likely, a good plot line, with a power shift in the balance, had something to do with level of curiosity.