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VP Debate Draws Record 69.9 Million Viewers

Last night’s Vice Presidential candidate debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden shattered the record for such forums, attracting just under 70 million viewers, while also surpassing last Friday’s Presidential contest between Barack Obama and John McCain.  

According to Nielsen Media Research data, the matchup from Washington University in St. Louis averaged 69.9 million viewers on NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, PBS, CNN, Fox News, CSPAN, MSNBC, CNBC, Telemundo and Telefutura. That total easily surpassed the 56.7 million who watched Rep. Geraldine Ferraro and then-Vice President George H.W. Bush in 1984 battle.

During the last Presidential election in 2004, the debate between Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. John Edwards drew 43.6 million viewers.

Biden-Palin also topped the audience for last Friday night’s McCain-Obama debate, which recorded 52.4 million watchers.

Fox New Channel set its all-time viewing mark with its Palin-Biden presentation, averaging almost 11.1 million from 9:01 to 10:33 p.m., according to Nielsen data.

That was about 400,000 more than CNN’s 10.7 million average for the event held at Washington in St. Louis. The VP debate attracted the third-largest audience in CNN history.

MSNBC pulled in 4.4 million watchers on average for the forum Thursday night.

Fox News’s VP debate numbers surpassed the 9.7 million viewers it collected for President Bush’s March 19, 2003 Iraq invasion address. Led by the VP debate telecast, Fox News notched its highest primetime average ever Oct. 2 with 9.16 million watchers.

CNN claimed several demo wins, including the cable news sector's largest audience ever among persons 18 to 34. It was first among the adult 25-to-54 news demo with 4.52 million of those watchers, versus 3.75 million for Fox News and 1.86 million for MSNBC. Among adults 18 to 49, the Nielsen scorecards read 5.62 million for CNN, 3.11 million for Fox News and 1.68 million for MSNBC. 

As mentioned, CNN set a cable news record with the 18-to-34 set with 3.17 million, compared with 906,000 and 817,000 for Fox News and MSNBC, respectively.

ABC won the night overall with 13.1 million viewers, while NBC had 11.1 million. CBS, like Fox, totaled 11.1 million watchers. Fox tallied 4 million.

PBS, not tracked by Nielsen, estimated that 3.5 million watched the VP nominee battle, 900,000 more than tuned in Obama-McCain's first debate.

The cable news networks' performance outpaced their marks for the Sept. 26 debate between Presidential aspirants Obama and McCain, when Fox News recorded 8.2 million, CNN 7.1 million and MSNBC 3.9 million watchers, respectively.