ABC, CNN top election ratings

Major cable news outlets were up from 2004

ABC and a record-setting CNN joined Barack Obama in the winner’s circle on Tuesday, drawing the most viewers on Election Night.

On an evening when the major broadcasters and many cable outlets turned their attention to the presidential race, the Alphabet led all networks in primetime, ending NBC’s recent Election Night dominance. And CNN — drawing its largest primetime viewership to date and roughly doubling its audience of 2004 — ranked second, surpassing NBC and CBS.

Each of the major cable news outlets was up vs. 2004 and set some all-time viewership records, while ABC and Fox were up on the broadcast side.

Overall, according to Nielsen estimates, 14 networks covering the election results (including the likes of Spanish-language broadcasters Univision and Telemundo and cablers BET and WGN) combined for 71.47 million viewers. This is a big 21% increase over the 59.17 million who watched the election results in primetime in 2004 (on 10 networks).

ABC led the way from 8 to 11 p.m. ET with 13.14 million viewers, followed by CNN (12.29 million), NBC (12.02 million), Fox News Channel (9.03 million), CBS (7.83 million), MSNBC (5.89 million), Fox (5.14 million) and Univision (4.08 million).

ABC was up 8% vs. 2004, and Fox (from a smaller base) rose by an even larger 26%. NBC tumbled by 20%, and CBS slid by 14%. In cable, CNN grew by 98%, Fox News by 12% and MSNBC by 107%.

As a group, the four major broadcast nets averaged an estimated 38.13 million viewers in primetime on Tuesday, down 6% from the 40.37 million they commanded in 2004, according to Nielsen. Cablers CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, on the other hand, rose 59% vs. 2004 (27.21 million vs. 17.09 million).

In adults 25-54, where each ratings point reps roughly 1.24 million viewers, ABC led the way with a 4.9 rating, followed by CNN and NBC (both at 4.7), Fox News Channel (3.2), CBS (2.9), Fox (2.2) and MSNBC (2.1). FNC drew the largest primetime 25-54 aud in the net’s history.

ABC’s victory marks its first on Election Night since 1996. NBC had won in 2000 and 2004.

Perhaps one reason for the strong showing by ABC and CNN is that these nets didn’t have to share their viewers with cable siblings. NBC and Fox, on the other hand, may have lost viewers to MSNBC and Fox News, respectively.

CNN also led the news outlets in online traffic Tuesday, according to Hitwise. Excluding the usual leaders MySpace, Facebook and YouTube, CNN commanded the largest share of online visits (0.61%), followed by MSNBC (0.40%), Fox News (0.22%), Drudge Report (0.20%) and New York Times (0.12%).

Comedy Central’s hourlong “Indecision 2008” spesh at 10 p.m. ET drew an impressive 3.1 million viewers, up about 45% from its 2004 edition (2.1 million).

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