Final Presidential Debate Draws 51.2 Million Viewers

Oct 14, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Nearly 51.2 million viewers in the United States watched President Bush and Sen. John Kerry meet Wednesday night in the third and last 90-minute presidential debate before the Nov. 2 election, according to Nielsen Media Research data. Nielsen figures also showed an average audience of 15.2 million for Fox Broadcasting’s coverage of the Yankees-Red Sox playoff game.

The audience for the debate — carried live on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC — was down from this year’s first debate, which drew 62.5 million Sept. 30 but up compared with the Oct. 8 debate, seen by an estimated 46.7 million.

But Wednesday’s audience was a whopping 13.5 million more than the 37.7 million who tuned in for the third presidential debate in 2000.

In a striking departure from recent patterns, ABC’s carriage of the debate was the top choice for the night, thanks to a landslide lead-in from ABC’s rookie hit “Lost,” which averaged 18.6 million viewers from 8-9 p.m. Some 14.5 million viewers stuck around for the debate on ABC. With a weaker lead-in from a repeat of “Law & Order” (8.7 million), the debate on NBC slipped into second place with 13.3 million viewers. The debate on CBS was the choice of 10.7 million viewers, following a “60 Minutes” lead-in of 8.5 million.

In the cable world, Fox News Channel again was the dominant choice, with 6.9 million tuning in to the debate. CNN attracted 3.7 million, followed by MSNBC with 2.1 million.

The snapshot of audiences for the analysis immediately after the debate shows ABC still in the lead with 10.9 million viewers, followed by NBC (10.7 million), CBS (8.2 million), Fox News Channel (6.2 million), CNN (3.8 million) and MSNBC (1.6 million).