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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Final Debate Draws Nearly 60 Million Viewers

Nearly 60 million television viewers at home tuned into the final presidential debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney on Monday night, despite stiff competition from two big sporting events.

Nielsen, a measurement company, said 59.2 million viewers at home were watching during an average minute of the debate, down from 67.2 million for the first debate on Oct. 3 and 65.6 million for the second debate on Oct. 17. The vice-presidential debate on Oct. 11 drew 51.4 million viewers.

The match-up between Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney was up against a “Monday Night Football” game on ESPN that had 10.7 million viewers and the final game of the National League Championship Series on Fox, which drew 8.1 million viewers.

All of the Nielsen numbers significantly understate the total viewing audience for the debates because they do not count viewers outside their homes, nor do they count those who viewed the debates on computers, tablets or cellphones. YouTube, for instance, said it served up millions of views of each debate, though it declined to say exactly how many.

The debate drew several million more viewers than did the third debate between Mr. Obama and John McCain in 2008, according to Nielsen, reflecting intense interest in the final weeks of the presidential election season this year.

About 11.5 million of the 59.2 million total viewers watched the debate on the Fox News Channel, a record high for the 16-year-old cable news channel. The channel's previous record, 11.1 million, was set during the debate last week.

Two broadcast networks, NBC and ABC, edged out Fox News during the debate, with 12.4 million and 11.7 million viewers, respectively. The other major broadcaster, CBS, had 8.4 million viewers.

More than 59.2 million viewers were watching at the beginning of the debate, and fewer were watching by the end - a typical result for an event that edges up against bed time. According to another TV measurement firm, Rentrak, the typical viewer watched 68 percent of the debate, down from 76 percent for the feistier town hall debate on Oct. 17.

“Americans are just not as interested in foreign policy as they are in domestic policy in this election,” said Bruce Goerlich, Rentrak's chief research officer.

Data provided by TiVo, a maker of set-top boxes, showed significant declines in viewership between 9 and 10:30 p.m. Of the major networks, Fox News viewers tended to tune out the fastest, according to the company's anonymous sample of set-top box users.