Obama's Afghanistan Speech Watched by 40.8 Million

Rash Report: 27% Jump From Last Prime-Time Presidential Presentation

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- President Obama's troop surge announcement was met with a commensurate viewing surge, as 40.8 million Americans watched the president present his revised Afghan war strategy. Carried live on 10 networks, the speech reached 27% more people than his last prime-time appearance, when he addressed a joint session of Congress on Sept. 9.

President Obama
President Obama Credit: Whitehouse.gov
For Obama, whom many media and political critics have called overexposed, it was his third-largest prime-time audience ever. But it fell short of the 49.5 million who watched his first presidential press conference on Feb. 9, and it only reached about 78% of the 52.4 million who watched his first address to a joint session of Congress, which is a rookie president's version of a State of the Union Address.

Still, it was 65% more viewers than watched his mid-July presser on health care and about 42% more than the 28.8 million who viewed his analysis of his first 100 days in office.

Of course, discussing the national strategic interest has more audience alacrity than the public option in the health-care bill, so it's not a surprise so many watched. Fox executives seemed to think this was more important, too: They ran the speech, unlike some other prime-time presidential presentations recently, which not only added a key network covering the event, but eliminated an entertainment option that could have siphoned viewers away.

The CW, however, continued its strategy of keeping its schedules in place. But maybe some of the network's intended younger audience -- realizing it's their generation that's providing the bulk of the soon to be 100,000 troops in Afghanistan -- watched the president instead, as "90210" could only match its 1.1/3 season-to-date average rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic. And "Melrose Place" (.7/2) couldn't even do that, as it was off 22% from its regular levels.

Both CBS and NBC ran analysis after the speech, but Fox jumped in with the jumpy "So You Think You Can Dance" (2.2/6, for a two-hour show).

NBC was the biggest winner with "The Biggest Loser" (3.7/10), which packed on enough extra viewers to supersede its regular levels by a tenth of a ratings point. Conversely, a more aspirational, albeit less realistic, show about body image, "The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show" (2.9/8) was down 19% from last year. Part of the problem might have been its lead-in, as CBS chose an "NCIS" repeat (2.7/7), which fell 40% from its original episode average.

Rash gridsEnlarge
See how all the shows did in the ratings.

But both "Biggest Loser" and "Victoria's Secret" easily made viewers forget "The Forgotten" on ABC, as the struggling drama plummeted to a series-low 1.2/3. But it, too, had a low lead-in, as the return of "Scrubs" (two episodes, each 2.0/5) was off 37% from its ABC premiere last January.

Maybe it's better to wait a week or so to see if viewers have scrubbed "Scrubs" from their viewing list, however. Because after watching a somber commander-in-chief tell West Point cadets that many of them will soon ship out to fight an intensifying insurgency, fewer viewers may have been in the mood to laugh.

And given that Obama's speech is not rated by Nielsen on individual networks, it's difficult to discern clear overall ratings-race winners, which somehow seems appropriate, too.

Wednesday: From the cold realities of Afghanistan to the warm fuzzies of Christmas specials, including "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" on CBS, "Christmas in Rockefeller Center" on NBC and "Mr. Christmas" on PBS.
Thursday: So maybe it's not hot cocoa, but for the Cynical Claus in some viewers, AMC's airing of "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" is more their style of holiday special. If not, TCM runs a classic 1938 version of "A Christmas Carol."

Given the ratings rise for the recent American Music Awards and Country Music Awards on ABC, CBS's "The Grammy Nominations Concert" should have a good night.

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NOTE: All ratings based on adults 18-49. A share is a percentage of adults 18-49 who have their TV sets on at a given time. A rating is a percentage of all adults 18-49, whether or not their sets are turned on. For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. adults 18-49 population with TVs. Ratings quoted in this column are based on live-plus-same-day unless otherwise noted. (Many ad deals have been negotiated on the basis of commercial-minute, live-plus-three-days viewing.)

John Rash is senior VP-director of media analysis for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For more, see rashreport.com.

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