Thursday night vice presidential candidates Joe Biden and Sarah Palin accomplished what presidential running mates Barack Obama and John McCain couldn’t. They set a viewership record, drawing the largest TV audience ever for a vice presidential debate.
Some 69.99 million viewers tuned in across 11 networks Thursday night, according to Nielsen numbers, bettering the old viewership record of 56.7 million set in 1984 for the debate between George H.W. Bush and the first woman ever to run for VP, Geraldine Ferraro.
The historic nature of this debate, with Palin just the second woman and the first-ever female Republican to run for vice president, likely fueled the big bump in viewers.
The debate drew 61 percent more viewers than the 2004 square off between John Edwards and Dick Cheney, which averaged 43.6 million viewers.
The debate was carried live from 9 to 10:30 p.m. on ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, Telefutura, Telemundo, BBC America, CNBC, CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC. ABC led all networks with 13.1 million total viewers, the second straight debate it has been No. 1.
NBC was second at 12.8 million, followed by a tie for third between CBS and Fox News Channel at 11.1 million. CNN was fifth at 10.7 million, Fox sixth at 4.5 million and MSNBC seventh at 4.4 million.
FNC set a record during the debate with its most-watched telecast ever, outdrawing a 2003 show.
The VP debate also significantly outdrew the first presidential debate on Sept. 26. Democrat Obama and Republican McCain’s first outing averaged 52.4 million viewers, despite some predictions beforehand that the contest could outdraw the all-time record of 80 millions set by Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan in 1980.
That debate took place on a Friday, when TV viewership levels are generally low. Still, two-thirds of television sets in use that night were tuned to something other than the debate. Many expect higher viewership for the second debate, which airs tomorrow night at 9 p.m.
While a huge number of viewers did tune in to Thursday’s VP production, it is not the highest-rated in history. That title still belongs to the 1984 debate, which averaged a 43.6 household rating to Thursday’s 41.7.
As Nielsen has pointed out, there are tens of millions more potential viewers today than 24 years ago, with a much greater number of television households.
Source: Media Life Magazine, Oct 6, 2008