33.6 Million Americans Watched Barack Obama’s Message to America

American Stories to US voters six days before the election of the next US president.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama delivered a 30-minute multi-network prime time television campaign speech entitled "Barack Obama: American Stories" to US voters six days before the election of the next President of the United States.

“The combined overall household rating for Senator Barack Obama’s Wednesday night infomercial, in the top 56 local television markets where Nielsen maintains electronic TV meters, was 21.7,” the fine folks at Nielsen tell us.

James Hibbard of the Hollywood Reporter thinks that qualifies as a blockuster: “If Barack Obama fails to win the election, perhaps the networks should hire him to entertain viewers on Wednesday nights,” he writes. “Obama’s 30-minute primetime infomercial was seen by 33.6 million viewers across seven networks – including CBS, NBC, Fox, Univision, MSNBC, BET and TV One. That’s 70% more people than watched the conclusion of the World Series last night on Fox (19.8 million).”

Taegan Goddard provides some historical context: “In contrast, the last presidential candidate to air a paid simulcast was Ross Perot in 1996, was seen by 16.8% of households. However, the ad was seen by fewer households than watched the presidential debates. The three debates were seen by 34.7%, 42% and 38.3% of households in these top markets, respectively.”

“The pundits on the cable nets may try to discount the power of the broadcast,” add Jonathan Singer at MyDD. “However, Obama was not trying to convince the Beltway cognoscenti with his event – he was trying to reach voters who might otherwise not have been reached. So the fact that what appears to have been tens of millions of people tuned in last night to a program with Oscar-like production values laying out a cogent case for why Barack Obama should be elected the next President of the United States cannot be a bad thing for the Obama campaign.”

Nielsen estimates that roughly 71% of viewers were white, 17% of viewers were black and 15% were Hispanic.*

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 more than a decade.

>> A Ross Perot political special in 1996 totaled 22 million viewers. And one of Perot’s ads on Nov. 2 in 1992 carried on ABC and CBS attracted 26 million viewers. Obama’s ad was 30% higher but, then again, Perot only got 19% of the vote on Election Day.

>> The lowest-rated of the three recent presidential debates received a 52.4 million viewers — but that was carried by more networks and was, after all, a highly anticipated debate instead of a paid ad.

>> Among all seven networks, the time period typically draws a total of 30.3 million — so Obama increased their viewership by about 11%.

The entertainment programming that usually runs in the slot on NBC, CBS and Fox averages 23.1 million viewers each week since the start of the season, roughly 9% lower than the Obama ad total on those networks (which is 25.5 million). 

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 40% and CBS’ by 19%.

And keep in mind Obama was competing against himself.

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 preliminary adults 18-49 rating. CBS had 8.6 million (2.3) and Fox had 7.1 million (2.8). 

Among the top 56 local metered markets, Nielsen says the Baltimore market had the largest TV audience for the ad while the Portland market had the lowest.

Nielsen: 33.6 million watched Obama ad

Political Prime-Time


One response to “33.6 Million Americans Watched Barack Obama’s Message to America

  1. I thought it was the closest thing Obama could get to his first State of the Union Address. And I like proactive thinking. It’s a helluva lot better than robocalls. Who would you want in charge?


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