At 8:12 PM Eastern Time last night, NBC called the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election for Barack Obama over Mitt Romney after the President took the key swing state of Ohio. Now, NBC is projected to win the race for Election Night television ratings in much the same fashion.
Four years ago, NBC won the ratings battle, but lost the war for overall viewership to ABC. According to the fast national numbers for 2012, the Peacock network is poised to score top honors in both ratings and overall viewership with an approximate 4.6/10 rating and 12.56 million total viewers.
Coming in at second was ABC, drawing a 3.8/8 and an audience of 11.15 million for Diane Sawyer's allegedly drunken delivery of the Alphabet network's election coverage with George Stephanopoulos.
A solid third at 2.7/6 and 8.42 million overall viewers, CBS was the only broadcast network to experience an increase in ratings from election coverage in 2008.
Measured in the 8–10 PM ET slot, FOX brought up the rear with a 2.0/4 and 4.95 million viewers.
Aside from CBS—which enjoyed an 8% gain from 2.5/5 and 8 million viewers four years ago—the major broadcast networks saw their ratings fall in comparison to the previous election. NBC was down only 2%, but second-place ABC suffered a 19% drop and FOX fell 9%.
The total audience in 2008 equalled more than 71 million when cable news channels were factored in, but cable numbers for last night are not yet available.
The downturn in network viewership isn't surprising because of the historic nature of the 2008 election and possible burnout this cycle. By the time Election Day arrived, observers around the world were already sick to death of hearing about the presidential race. I would imagine many Americans were glad to get it over with, cast their vote, and ignored most of the election coverage. At least, that's how it works up here in Canada.