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Networks Poised for Record Election Night TV Audience

November 8, 2016 - 9:00am

Have you had a look at TV this morning? At sunrise, network news journalists were coiffed, in full makeup, clucking like free-range chickens in a barnyard. I know they live for nights like the one ahead, and in a way, so do I. But these folks really should pace themselves.

This should be the most-watched night of election coverage ever. 

The Chicago Tribune compares the "wild, unpredictable 2016 presidential campaign to a reality show starring Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton" and election night as the big series finale that absolutely nobody wants to miss.

The current record for election coverage is 71.5 million viewers who watched across 13 networks in 2008, when President Barack Obama was elected, according to Nielsen.

“Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are obviously not the most popular candidates, but they're probably the most watched candidates in terms of ratings when it comes to news coverage,” said Jay Wallace, executive vice president of News and Editorial for Fox News. "It's been a remarkable ride.”

Fox News, incidentally, is unveiling a new studio on election night that will allow anchors Bret Baier and Megyn Kelly to have easier access to its “decision desk” -- where analysts pore over the voting results and decide when to call a state and its electoral votes for one of the candidates. 

In 2012, Kelly created a viral video moment when she marched through the halls of Fox News headquarters to get an answer from the desk about the results in Ohio.  (Republican strategist Karl Rove caused a stir during Fox’s coverage as he refused to accept data that showed GOP candidate Mitt Romney had no chance to win the state). She won’t have to travel as far if any of the desk’s calls are disputed this year. The analysts will be sequestered backstage.

Nielsen says the current record for election coverage was set in 2008 when 71.5 million viewers watched across 13 networks as President Barack Obama was elected.

Cable news networks won't be the only TV presence looking to cash in on today's captive-audience phenomenon. ABC’s daytime program “The View” will get a live airing on Lifetime. CBS late-night host Stephen Colbert will react in real time to the news in a live special airing on Showtime. MTV will cover the vote from its old “Total Request Live” studio in Times Square. BuzzFeed will feature its political reporters in coverage from its New York headquarters, which will be streamed over Twitter.

But for the traditional TV news outlets -- ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS -- Tuesday is the equivalent of the Super Bowl. They've been promoting tonight at least for the last week, some even longer: Their hours of extended coverage will reach more viewers with election results coverage than any other night of the year.

Speaking of the Super Bowl, the election is as much a business bonanza as football's biggest day of the year. Moguls who keep tabs on these things say strong demand for advertising time on the night is consistent with what the networks have seen throughout the year for the debates. Cable news networks have been the major beneficiaries. 

The Chicago Tribune reports CNN is expected to hit $1 billion in profits in 2016, a first in the history of the network, while Fox News profits are projected to reach $1.67 billion, according SNL Kagan. Profits for MSNBC are expected to grow 19 percent to $279.6 million.

Just how long election night goes is an open question. The national polls have tightened in the past week, so plan for a wait. Obama’s victories were announced in the 11 p.m. EST hour in 2008 and 2012. 

But 2004 was another kettle of fish. When the results of the race between President George W. Bush and John Kerry were decided by the electoral votes in Ohio, none of the networks called the race on election night. They waited until Kerry made his concession speech the following day.

There's every possibility coverage of Trump vs. Clinton could head into the wee hours of Wednesday.

Said Sam Feist, Washington bureau chief for CNN, “I don’t see us projecting a winner particularly early this time, but anything can happen.”

The Chicago Tribune provided much of the information in this story. Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith  


Keeping my fingers crossed for Trump. Have a bottle of champagne and a half gallon of Johnny Walker Red. it takes me 3 days to get over a whisky drunk. Broward already all screwed up with ballots. Shades of Miriam Oliphant. Then we have Souls to Polls. Isn't that illegal? Does anyone care? The colored vote. Philadelphia as crooked as Chicago which has to be the most crooked. Remember 1960 when Nixon won? But big Joe bought off Sam Giancana and he delivered Chicago and JFK won. Sam's main squeeze was Phyllis McGuire of the McGuire sisters. Big stars in their day. Sam was also porking Judith Exeter, a whore who was also screwing JFK. And Bobby too as the brothers typically shared poontang. That raised some eyebrows. The deal was that Sam delivere Chicago and Joe would get Bobby off the neck of the mob. Sam did what he said he would do. Joe and the rest of them lied. JFK died. Smart money says that Carolos Marcello, mob boss of New Orleans is who arranged the murder. He did not like the Kennedy's and DETESTED Bobby. Oh, I suspect Cliinton will win. Hell, just look at the influx of Puerto Ricans into Orlando. Since Puerto Rico is bankrupt there has been a massive infusion of the island folks. Their benefits cut off here. Hop on a plane, debark, sign up for new improved benefits. Massive voter fraud under way and everyone knows it. Fornicate this early voting and mail in nonsense. Oh, well, may as well get a case of club soda.

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