DESPITE EXPECTATIONS, DEBATE WAS BOX OFFICE BUST
SOMETHING funny happened at the debates last Friday - no one watched, relatively speaking.
It has been expected that the first presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain would shatter ratings records.
The presidential campaign has been an unadulterated TV hit all year - stretching all the way back the first primary debates.
But the numbers turned out to be a little below average - it did not even make the top 10 list of presidential debates-surprising both the campaign and TV people alike.
As for Thursday night's vice-presidential debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden - which is shaping up as a potential blockbuster - network officials yesterday were suddenly refusing to make predictions.
"We all thought Friday was going to be a record breaker," says one TV news executive. "It wasn't, so the best I can do is say that we're looking forward to Thursday night."
Early Nielsen numbers indicated Friday night's debate was about 14 percent lower than the first presidential debate between John Kerry and President Bush in 2004, which was seen by more than 62 million viewers.
Some experts were suggesting Friday's debate would draw 80 million viewers - but the reality is that, when final ratings are released today, the numbers will be closer to 55 million.
There are two theories as to why:
* The first is that every televised presidential debate ever shown on a Friday was the lowest rated one of the election.
"It's the end of a work week, and people go out," says MediaWeek's Marc Berman. "People don't want to come home with a bucket of KFC on a Friday night and watch politics."
Berman suggests that if this year's convention speeches were held on Friday nights, they would have been much lower rated, too.
* The avalanche of bad economic news out of Washington last week has left people drained.
"Coming out of the conventions and the acceptance speeches, I would've expected the numbers to be a little higher," says Horizon Media's Brad Adgate. "But I also think there was a lot of negative news last week and people just tuned out."
Adgate says that typical Friday night viewers tend to be senior citizens and young families with small children.
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