In Depth

Most Watched Debate on ABC, Fox News

By making a night of it, ABC came out a winner Friday, drawing 11.04 million viewers for the first of three presidential debates between Democratic candidate Barack Obama and Republican candidate John McCain. The network led all broadcast and cable outlets for the debate and the post-debate analysis.

According to Nielsen Media Research, 52.42 million viewers watched the debate on 11 broadcast and cable networks.

In addition, the special “20/20” in which Diane Sawyer profiled the two candidates racked up the network’s largest audience (6.89 million total viewers) in the time period in nearly two years, according to national data from Nielsen.

ABC’s debate audience was up 10% from the 10.05 million viewers who watched the last Friday-night presidential debate on the network on Oct. 8, 2004.

The post-debate analysis with ABC’s Charles Gibson, Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos averaged 8.27 million viewers, giving the network a significant lead over NBC’s 7.12 million viewers and CBS’ 6.14 million viewers in the same time frame.

Among cable networks, Fox News Channel attracted the largest audience for the debate and the analysis following. The debate, from 9 p.m. through 10:38 p.m. EDT, averaged 8.21 million viewers, making it the cable channel’s second-highest-rated presidential debate ever, behind the 9.56 million viewers who tuned in for the Bush-Kerry faceoff on Sept. 30, 2004.

CNN’s audience for the debate was 7.14 million viewers. MSNBC averaged 3.92 million viewers.

Analysis from the end of the debate through 11 p. m. was watched by 7.41 million on Fox, 6.50 million on CNN and 3.28 million on MSNBC.