UPDATED: If Barack Obama fails to win the election, perhaps the networks should hire him to entertain viewers on Wednesday nights.
On average, Obama’s 30-minute primetime infomercial managed to outperform the usual broadcast programming in the 8 p.m. time period.
The Obama special was seen by about 26.4 million viewers across broadcasters CBS, NBC and Fox, according to preliminary Nielsen ratings. If you add Spanish-language broadcaster Univision, that total climbs to 30.1 million.
Now the tricky question is: What do you compare Obama’s ad to? After all, such a national pre-election special hasn’t been attempted in 16 years.
The entertainment programming that usually runs in the slot on those three networks has averaged a cumulative 23.1 million viewers each week since the start of the season — 12% lower than the Obama ad total. Put another way, the time period averages about 7.7 million viewers and a 2.4 adults 18-49 rating per network. In the preliminary ratings, the ad pulled an average of 9.2 million viewers and a 2.7 average rating per network — boosting the advertiser-friendly adult demo by 13%.
But the usual shows are comedies and dramas. Can one realistically compare “Knight Rider” to a political ad? That would normally seem unfair — to the politician. Obama improved NBC’s time period average this season by 36% and CBS’ by 5%. And keep in mind Obama was competing against himself.
The lowest-rated of the three presidential debates received a 52.4 million viewers — but that was carried by more networks and was, after all, a debate.
The Ross Perot specials in 1992 averaged merely 11.6 million viewers, but those were 15 separate specials that ran on different nights.
NBC was the most-viewed and highest-rated network for its presentation of Obama’s ad, pulling 9.8 million viewers and a 3.0 rating. CBS had 8.6 million (2.3) and Fox had 7.9 million (2.8).
And keep in mind, the Obama ad aired on more networks than just those three broadcasters. MSNBC, Univision, BET and TV One also carried the ad.
Nielsen will release a total viewership number that includes other telecasts later today. The measurement company has released a cume metered market household rating for the ad — 21.7. Among the top 56 local metered markets, the Baltimore market had the largest TV audience for the ad while the Portland market had the lowest.
As for ABC’s underdog “Pushing Daisies,” airing on the only major broadcaster not to carry the ad, the counterprogramming still came in fourth place in the adults 18-49 demo. Still, “Daisies” (6.8 million, 2.2) was up by 16% from last week to a season high. The CW’s “America’s Next Top Model” (3.9 million, 2.0), also running in the time period, didn’t receive a bump and was on par with last week.
Further reading: Here’s how the nation’s top TV critics reacted to the ad.
Wednesday’s non-Obama ratings: Fox tops night with conclusion of World Series