First President Obama Press Conference: 49.5 Million

Rash Report: ABC, NBC, CBS Evenly Split Share of Audience

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MINNEAPOLIS ( -- Given the global economic crisis, it's not surprising Americans were looking for a hero last night. But instead of action hero Jack Bauer on Fox's "24" or Hiro and others on NBC's "Heroes," it was President Barack Obama they turned to, as he had his first prime-time press conference since taking office.

President Obama's first prime-time news conference was watched by 49.5 million people on 8 networks.
President Obama's first prime-time news conference was watched by 49.5 million people on 8 networks. Credit: AP
It was televised on eight networks, and Nielsen estimated that 49.5 million watched for a combined 30 household rating. While the big number indicates that interest in politics is lasting beyond the campaign, the household rating is actually less than the 42.1 for Bill Clinton's first prime-time press conference in a less-cabled 1993. And, not surprisingly, it's less than the 42 household rating for President George W. Bush's 2001 press conference in the days after Sept. 11.

As for the ad-centric 18-to-49 demographic, ABC, NBC and CBS each had an 8 share; the former two received 3.1 ratings, and CBS had a 3.0. Meanwhile, Fox delivered a 2.2/6 (all based on fast-affiliate data, as final live-plus-same-day doesn't reflect "non-commercial" programming).

Millions more elected to watch on cable news networks. CNN led with a .9/2, followed by a .8/2 on Fox News Channel and a .4/1 on MSNBC.

Of course, politics doesn't work like "24" or "Heroes," in which viewers are assured the program's problem can be solved in an episode or a season. While it looked like a good night for choosing viewing based on those scripted certainties, both of those dramas dropped, with "Heroes" (3.6/8) tumbling 10% and "24" slipping 17% from its season average, to a 3.4/8.

Instead, viewers opted for escapist, albeit silly, sitcoms "Two and a Half Men" (4.8/11) and "The Big Bang Theory" (4.5/10) on CBS or reality of a different kind on ABC's "The Bachelor," which was up 17% to a season high 4.2/10. (The CW was an also-ran, as a "Gossip Girl" repeat notched only a .8/2 and a second showing of "One Tree Hill," .6/1, averaged a fifth-place .7/2.)

The ratings rise of "The Bachelor" is even more impressive because it ran out of its usual time slot and finished at 11 p.m., up against CBS's "CSI: Miami" (4.0/10) and NBC's "Medium" (2.6/7).

"CSI: Miami" held its season average, while "Medium" lost 10% from last week's season premiere. That helped CBS eek out a win with a 3.9/10, above ABC's 3.8/9, NBC's 3.1/8 and Fox's 2.8/7 (all estimates, accounting for fast-affiliate ratings for the press conference).

Tuesday: Skip NBC's "Biggest Loser" for that lovable loser, Charlie Brown, who stars in back-to-back Valentine's Day specials on ABC: "Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown" and "A Charlie Brown Valentine."

Wednesday: The president from Illinois confronts crisis from the very beginning of his administration. No, not Obama -- that was last night. Instead it's "Looking for Lincoln," PBS's perspective on the 16th president, marking the 200th anniversary of his birth.

A ratings rise for CBS's "The Mentalist," which returns with an original episode after two weeks of repeats.

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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

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