In Depth

ABC Draws Most Debate Viewers

ABC’s win streak with debate coverage was extended to three Tuesday night when the network averaged 12.8 million viewers through 90 minutes of debate and a half-hour of analysis of the second of three face-offs between presidential candidates Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama.

Debate

According to preliminary national data from Nielsen Media Research, second-place NBC averaged 9.2 million viewers through the debate and its analysis.

CBS averaged 9 million viewers from 9-11 p.m. ET with the debate and analysis.

The debate audiences on ABC and NBC grew from their entertainment lead-ins, the “Dancing With the Stars” results show and “Biggest Loser,” respectively, while CBS’ debate audience dropped from its “NCIS” lead-in.

When the time zone adjustments are made to the preliminary data, the numbers are certain to change. Final nationals and cable data for the debate are due this afternoon.

ABC was up 1.8 million viewers from last week’s debate between vice presidential candidates Sen. Joe Biden and Gov. Sarah Palin.

NBC and CBS were down from their VP debate numbers by 1.5 million and 1.3 million viewers, respectively.

According to Nielsen, the combined overall household rating for the debate in 55 of the 56 metered markets was 42.1, up dramatically from the household rating of 34.7 for the presidential candidates’ first debate two week ago, but down from the 45.0 rating the veep debate earned last week.

Nielsen noted that the second presidential debate benefited from being on a Tuesday night instead of a Friday, as the first one was.

The biggest TV tune-in in any of the metered markets was in Nashville, site of Tuesday’s debate, where it scored a 59.2 rating. The lowest rating was 31.8 in the Sacramento/Stockton/Modesto, Calif., market.

None of the 10 largest TV markets in the country were in the list of top 10 debate audiences Tuesday night.

More information on the debate ratings can be found here.

[Editor: Liff; updated at 9:30 a.m. PT]