UPDATED: The final result of the 2020 presidential election is still very much up in the air, however, one certainty is that fewer viewers watched Election Night this year than in previous cycles.
According to Nielsen measurements, a total of 56.9 million viewers tuned in across a whopping 21 networks. While still a large number for TV viewership these days, that figure is down roughly 20% on the 2016 Election Night which drew 71.4 million viewers across only a dozen networks in Nielsen’s final count.
The 21 networks this time around included the four major broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox), the three major cable news networks (Fox News, MSNBC and CNN), two business networks (Fox Business and CNBC), several Spanish-language outlets (Telemundo, Univision and Estrella), as well as NBCLX, PBS, BET, BET Her, CNNe, Newsmax, Newsy, VICE and WGNA.
Looking at the individual network breakdown for the 8-11 p.m. time frame, Fox News drew by far the largest audience with 13.6 million viewers. CNN came second with just over 9 million, followed by MSNBC with 7.3 million. ABC managed to toppled NBC in the broadcast race, scoring 6.1 million viewers to the latter’s 5.6 million. CBS ended up with an audience of 4.3 million, while Fox trailed the pack with 3.3 million.
For comparison, NBC was the most-watched network four years ago with 12.1 million viewers, while Fox News had 11.5 million.
All three cablers combined were roughly even on 2016, as the decline from last election came primarily among the four broadcast networks (which lost more than 9 million total viewers combined).
On the Spanish-language front, Univision outperformed Telemundo by 2 million viewers to 1.5 million. Fox Business Network’s coverage drew 647,000 viewers, while CNBC delivered 127,000.
In terms of the key news demographic of people aged 25-54, Fox News is again top of the pile, but with a more slender lead. FNC drew 4.9 million in the demo to its coverage, with CNN not far behind at 4.4 million. However, after those two is a pretty big drop-off to NBC at 2.5 million, MSNBC at 2.4 million, and ABC at 2.3 million. CBS scored 1.7 million viewers in the demo, Fox 1.6 million.
The 2016 overall figure represented an increase from the 2012 night, which drew 66.8 million viewers. The record TV viewership for election night is the 71.5 million who tuned in to watch Barack Obama score a historic victory in 2008.