NEW YORK — Much like the presidential debates, coverage of the Iowa caucus set new standards for television viewership.
An average of 10.2 million people watched the results of the year's first presidential contest Monday on CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC, the Nielsen company said. Besides Ted Cruz's mild upset win in the Republican caucus, the Democratic contest was a nailbiter between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
That doubled the 5.1 million people who watched Iowa caucus coverage four years ago. The previous high was just under 6 million on the news networks in 2008, the last time there was no incumbent running. In 2000, a different era when broadcast networks were a bigger player in news coverage, the three news networks had 1.5 million viewers on caucus night.
The caucus coverage also more than doubled the viewership for the three news networks during a typical weeknight in January, Nielsen said.
Fox, the longtime cable ratings leader, averaged 4.46 million viewers during the prime-time hours of 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. EST. CNN had 3.73 million, and beat Fox within the 25-to-54-year-old demographic that advertising sales for most news programs are based upon. MSNBC, whose coverage was anchored by Brian Williams and Rachel Maddow, had just under 2 million.
The most popular prime-time program in all of television last week was Fox News Channel's coverage of the GOP debate before Iowa. The coverage narrowly beat Fox broadcasting's live presentation of "Grease."
CBS won the week in prime time, averaging 7.5 million viewers. Fox had 6.8 million, NBC had 4.9 million, ABC had 3.9 million, Univision had 1.93 million, the CW had 1.86 million, ION Television had 1.43 million and Telemundo had 1.35 million.
Fox News Channel was the week's most popular cable network, averaging 3.18 million viewers in prime time. ESPN had 2.45 million, USA had 1.849 million, HGTV had 1.846 million and TBS had 1.61 million.
NBC's "Nightly News" topped the evening newscasts with an average of 9.6 million viewers. ABC's "World News Tonight" was second with 9.2 million and the "CBS Evening News" had 8 million viewers.
For the week of Jan. 25-31, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships: Republican Presidential Debate, Fox News Channel, 12.47 million; "Grease: Live," Fox, 12.21 million; "NCIS," CBS, 11.98 million; "Scorpion," CBS, 10.7 million; "Madam Secretary," CBS, 10.2 million; "NCIS: Los Angeles," CBS, 10.06 million; "The X-Files" (Monday), Fox, 9.67 million; "American Idol" (Wednesday), Fox, 9.626 million; "The Big Bang Theory," CBS, 9.625 million; "60 Minutes," CBS, 9.38 million.
ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co. CBS is owned by CBS Corp. CW is a joint venture of Warner Bros. Entertainment and CBS Corp. Fox is owned by 21st Century Fox. NBC and Telemundo are owned by Comcast Corp. ION Television is owned by ION Media Networks.