An estimated 62.5 million viewers saw the first of three televised presidential debates between President Bush and challenger Sen. John Kerry last Thursday night, according to Nielsen Media Research.
That’s a 34 percent increase over 2000, when an estimated 46.6 million people tuned in for live coverage of the first debate between Vice President Al Gore and Mr. Bush on ABC, CBS, Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC. NBC and Fox Broadcasting carried baseball playoffs live and offered the debate on a delayed basis in 2000. This year NBC and Fox aired live coverage.
NBC attracted the largest audience for the 90-minute debate Thursday, drawing some 17.2 million viewers. CBS was second with 13.5 million, followed by ABC (11.5 million), Fox News Channel (9.6 million), Fox Broadcasting (5.2 million), CNN (4.4 million) and MSNBC (1.2 million).
For Fox News Channel, the debate goes into the books as its second-largest single-show audience ever, behind President Bush’s four-minute announcement March 19, 2003, that America was going to war against Iraq. That telecast drew 9.7 million viewers.
In the half-hour of post-debate analysis, NBC News again led with an estimated 13.4 million viewers, followed by ABC News (13 million) and CBS News (9.4 million).
On the cable side, Fox News averaged 7.9 million in the half-hour following the debate, followed by CNN (4 million) and MSNBC (1.9 million).
A special edition of “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart’s” “Indecision 2004” coverage on Comedy Central, which was seen live on the East Coast, set a “Daily Show” record with 2.4 million viewers. The previous record was 1.9 million viewers for a visit by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on Jan. 21, 2004.