NBC wins election night

From “What was up with Diane Sawyer?” to “Did you see Karl Rove challenge the Ohio results on FOX News?,” post-election night discussions centered around the televised coverage as much as they centered around the actual outcome of the presidential race. According to Nielsen estimates, NBC led the pack in terms of total number of viewers on Tuesday night.

More than 12 million viewers tuned into NBC’s prime-time coverage of the event, making that network #1 in the ratings race. Scoring another victory for the Peacock network, NBC anchor Brian Williams was the first to announce that President Barack Obama had won the race.

The New York Times reports the rest of the results

FOX News came in second with 11.5 million viewers, followed by ABC with 10.5 million, CNN with 9.3 million, and CBS with 7.9 million. The FOX broadcast network had 4.9 million viewers, and MSNBC had 4.7 million.

A total of more than 66 million people watched news coverage on more than a dozen TV channels. This is slightly down from the 2008 election night, when a record was set with more than 71 million viewers.

To put these ratings in perspective, we can look at some other major televised events. Earlier this year the Super Bowl brought in about 111 million total viewers, and the 1983 finale of MASH drew 106 million. These numbers prove that while politics has its fair share of drama, sports and comedy are the TV networks’ real winners.

Amy Schein

Amy Schein is an Industry Specialist at First Research, where she covers various aspects of the media industry. She earned her BS and MA in media studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Follow Amy on Twitter.

Read more articles by Amy Schein.


  1. Nice post, Amy. I had been wondering who won the ratings war, especially since so many people on Twitter were telling each other to watch the whole Rove affair on Fox. And I especially like the total numbers and the perspective you gave by comparing the really big watching events. Very informative!

  2. Amy Schein Amy Schein says:

    Thanks for your comments Lynett! I agree–it’s always interesting to see how exactly the public tunes in to major televised events.

  3. Chris Huston says:

    It’s interesting how the ratings are a reverse of how the networks fare on regular programming. Struggling NBC took the top spot and kingpin CBS lagged near the bottom. America likes how the Peacock covers facts but not fiction.

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