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October 26, 2012
Dennis Wharton
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Broadcast Networks Far Outpace Cable News Channels in Presidential Debate Viewership

WASHINGTON, D.C. By a 2-to-1 margin, Americans preferred watching the presidential and vice presidential debates on broadcast television networks to cable networks according to Nielsen data, the National Association of Broadcasters announced today.

Nielsen ratings data show that 65.9 million viewers, representing 45.6 million television households, watched at least one of the three presidential debates between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. In total, 43.7 million viewers, representing 30.7 million TV households, watched at least one presidential debate on a broadcast TV network ((ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, Telemundo, PBS and Univision) compared to 22.2 million viewers, representing 14.9 million TV households, who watched the debates on a cable channel (CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, Current TV and CNBC).

"Broadcast television has a legacy as the leading source of information when there's breaking news or history is transpiring," said National Association of Broadcasters Executive Vice President of Communications Dennis Wharton. "The ratings from this year's debates are further proof that legacy remains intact."

Nielsen Ratings of 2012 Presidential Debates

Presidential Debate Broadcast Network Viewers Cable Network Viewers Total Television Viewers
October 3
Denver, Colo.
45.2 million
(31.6 million households)
21.9 million
(14.6 million households)
67.1 million
46.2 million households)
October 16
Hempstead, N
43 million
(30.3 million households)
22.6 million
(15.2 million households)
65.6 million
(45.5 million households)
Octobe r 22
Raton, Fla.
37.3 million
(26.3 million households)
2 1.9 million
(14.9 million househol
59.2 million
(41.2 million households)
Total viewers of at least one debate 43.7 million
(30.7 million households)
22.2 million
(14.9 million households)
65.9 million
(45.6 million households)
Source: Live+Same Day, Persons 2+, Nielsen sum of weighted average ratings for three presidential debates held October 3, October 16, and October 22. Broadcast stations included ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, Telemundo, PBS and Univision and cable networks CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, Current TV and CNBC, October 24, 2012.

Additionally, the October 11 vice presidential debate in Danville, Ky. between Vice President Joe Biden and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan was watched by 51.4 million viewers representing 36.4 million TV households. Nielsen ratings data show that 32.2 million viewers, representing 23 million TV households, watched this debate on broadcast networks while 19.2 million viewers representing 13.4 million TV households watched on cable networks.

The debate ratings highlight the results of a recent survey which found broadcast networks are the top source of presidential election news, and television was the medium most voters cited as a resource in helping them decide for whom to cast their ballot.

Last week, WPP-owned Mindshare released a survey conducted in September that found 60% of respondents received news on the presidential election from broadcast network news coverage, more than any other source cited by respondents. The poll also found that the single most important factor for voters in deciding who to vote for was seeing the presidential candidates talk on television.

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