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During election night I went over to Fox News – I got the sense they were a little depressed over there – seem dismayed at the direction of the results coming in. They didn’t actually believe all that stuff they were saying about Barack – did they?
More than 60 million viewers watched prime-time, election-night coverage on ABC, NBC, CBS and the three main cable news networks, an increase of nearly 10 percent over 2004, according to early estimates provided Wednesday by Nielsen Media Research.
When adding in the viewership of eight other channels — including Black Entertainment Televison and the Spanish-language networks Univision and Telemundo — Tuesday night’s combined viewership ballooned to 71.5 million, more than in either 2004 or 2000.
The most-watched network, with an estimated 13.1 million viewers, was ABC. It had stationed Charles Gibson, Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos in Times Square, which was soon playing host to a raucous, impromptu celebration of Barack Obama’s victory that felt more like Dick Clark’s New Year’s Eve party than election night. The network’s audience was about the same as in 2004.
On cable, the big winner was CNN, which drew an estimated 12.3 million viewers in prime time, nearly double its audience four years earlier. The CNN audience was so large that it eclipsed that of two broadcast networks, NBC (12 million) and CBS (7.8 million), for the first time. (The audiences for the NBC and CBS broadcasts, which were led by Brian Williams and Katie Couric, each fell by more than 15 percent, when compared with election night of 2004.)
NBC’s sister cable network, MSNBC, posted large gains, with an audience of 5.9 million, more than double its viewership in 2004, according to the Nielsen estimates. (During the campaign, MSNBC and The New York Times shared some political newsgathering.) Fox News also gained Tuesday night, with an estimated 9 million viewers, an increase of about 12 percent over 2004.
For viewers of the broadcast network coverage, this election night represented a moment of transition. Since the last election, Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw have left their anchor posts on CBS and NBC — Mr. Brokaw returned as an NBC analyst Tuesday night, Mr. Rather was on HDNet, a cable channel — and Peter Jennings died.
For the cable news channels, too, new trends emerged. CNN, which was seen by fewer viewers than Fox News on election night 2004, this year outdrew Fox News. In addition, the Fox broadcast network drew 5.1 million viewers.