UPDATED: Tuesday night, Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election. And all told, 71.43 million Americans watched on broadcast or cable TV during primetime, according to Nielsen’s final count.
That number doesn’t include PBS, but does include ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, Univision, Telemundo, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, Fox Business Network, CNBC and TV One. That PBS-less 71.43 million in 2016 is roughly on par with the record 71.47 million Americans who witnessed Barack Obama become the first African-American man elected president in 2008, according to Nielsen’s final 2008 tally of 14 networks’ viewership, which did include PBS. Nielsen’s final count for 2016 included viewership on Lifetime’s live “The View” special. The average audience for the 2012 election was 66.8 million when viewing across 13 networks was tallied by Nielsen.
Coverage on all of the networks except Fox broadcasting extended into the wee hours of the morning. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton didn’t concede to Republican nominee Donald Trump until after 2 a.m. on the East Coast, and Trump didn’t deliver his victory speech until around 3 a.m.
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CNN had the biggest night of all the networks in primetime, drawing an average audience of 13.26 million from 8-11 p.m. Fox News followed with 12.11 million total viewers. MSNBC came in third in the cable race with 5.95 million. The same pecking order followed in the coveted-by-news-advertisers 25-54 demographic: CNN had 6.66 million viewers in that demo, Fox News had 4.64 million, and MSNBC had 2.37 million.
In coverage from 7 p.m. – 3 a.m., the numbers look slightly different. Fox News drew the biggest total audience in that time frame, with 12.2 million viewers. CNN came in with an average audience of 11.17 million during that time, and MSNBC had an audience of 5.2 million. CNN did still lead in the 25-54 demo, though, with 5.65 million to Fox News’ 4.76 million. (MSNBC brought in 2.13 million viewers in the 25-54 demo in that period.)
Tuesday was the most-watched night in both CNN and Fox News’ histories.
However, viewers did begin tuning out after seeing several key swing states called, and by the time the 2 a.m. hour rolled around, viewership on the three big cable nets was at 19.1 million. Fox News had the most, with 9.78 million. CNN followed with 6.45 million, with MSNBC coming in at 2.86 million.
Another 38.67 million watched the election results come in on one of the broadcast networks. That number, from Nielsen’s final primetime ratings, includes ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox (from 8-10 p.m.), Univision and Telemundo. ABC had an average audience of 9.23 million viewers. CBS pulled in 8.09 million. Fox’s two hours of results coverage drew 4.28 million. NBC had the largest total audience, 11.15 million. Telemundo averaged 2.02 million.
These ratings don’t include viewers who streamed election night coverage.