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October 30, 2008

Nielsen: 33.6 million watched Obama ad

83485060 UPDATED: If Barack Obama fails to win the election, perhaps the networks should hire him to entertain viewers on Wednesday nights.

Obama's 30-minute primetime infomercial was seen by 33.6 million viewers across seven networks -- including CBS, NBC, Fox, Univision, MSNBC, BET and TV One.

That's 70% more people than watched the conclusion of the World Series last night on Fox (19.8 million). Clearly, Obama vs. McCain is more compelling to viewers this week than Phillies vs. Rays.

Nielsen estimates that roughly 71% of viewers were white, 17% of viewers were black and 15% were Hispanic.*

Now the tricky question is: What do you compare Obama's ad to? After all, such a national pre-election special hasn’t been attempted in more than a decade.

>> A Ross Perot political special in 1996 totaled 22 million viewers. And one of Perot's ads on Nov. 2 in 1992 carried on ABC and CBS attracted 26 million viewers. Obama's ad was 30% higher but, then again, Perot only got 19% of the vote on Election Day.

>> The lowest-rated of the three recent presidential debates received a 52.4 million viewers -- but that was carried by more networks and was, after all, a highly anticipated debate instead of a paid ad.

>> Among all seven networks, the time period typically draws a total of 30.3 million -- so Obama increased their viewership by about 11%.

The entertainment programming that usually runs in the slot on NBC, CBS and Fox averages 23.1 million viewers each week since the start of the season, roughly 9% lower than the Obama ad total on those networks (which is 25.5 million). 

But the usual shows are comedies and dramas. Can one realistically compare "Knight Rider" to a political ad? That would normally seem unfair -- to the politician. Obama improved NBC's time period average this season by 40% and CBS' by 19%.

And keep in mind Obama was competing against himself.

NBC was the most-viewed and highest-rated network for its presentation of Obama's ad, pulling 9.8 million viewers and a 3.0 preliminary adults 18-49 rating. CBS had 8.6 million (2.3) and Fox had 7.1 million (2.8). 

Among the top 56 local metered markets, Nielsen says the Baltimore market had the largest TV audience for the ad while the Portland market had the lowest.

As for ABC's underdog "Pushing Daisies," airing on the only major broadcaster not to carry the ad, the counterprogramming tied CBS for third place in the adults 18-49 demo in the afternoon nationals. "Daisies" (6.7 million, 2.3) was also up by 21% from last week to a season high. The CW's "America's Next Top Model" (3.9 million, 2.0), also running in the time period, didn't receive a bump and was on par with last week.

Further reading: Here's how the nation's top TV critics reacted to the ad.

Wednesday's non-Obama ratings: Fox tops night with conclusion of World Series.

ALSO: Video: The full infomercial ... The AP fact check .... Politico's pundits roundtable ... NY Post: Infomercial pitchman gives the ad high marks ... McCain responds

Previous: Obama ad will have live portion ... "Pushing Daisies" creator Fuller on competing with Obama ad ... CNN rejected Obama ad; Fox News not asked ... Thoughts on "The Obama Show" ... Obama buys half-hour of network primetime.

* Yes, the total is higher than 100%. Since the Hispanic designation concerns what language the viewer speaks, viewers can be white and Hispanic in Nielsen tallies.


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