While Nielsen pegged the U.S. TV audience for Michael Jackson’s memorial service at 31.1 million viewers, ratings for individual networks were still trickling in late Wednesday, and the broadcasters may not have their final tallies until next week.
Cable outlets began releasing their Tuesday ratings this afternoon, and thus far it appears the news outlets were the top draw. CNN won the three-hour window coinciding with the duration of the memorial, averaging 5.3 million viewers between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. EDT. Of those who tuned in to CNN for its coverage of the Jackson event, some 2.26 million were members of the adults 25-54 demo.
Taking second among cable news nets was Fox News Channel, which drew 2.23 million viewers and 673,000 adults 25-54. MSNBC placed third, averaging 1.39 million viewers and 550,000 adults 25-54, while Headline News drew 377,000 total viewers and 190,000 members of the core news demo.
Fox News would prevail in prime time, averaging 2.44 million viewers to CNN’s 2.28 million, although CNN continued to hold the advantage in the demo. On the night, CNN drew 927,000 adults 25-54, topping FNC’s 683,000.
General entertainment nets also put up big numbers yesterday afternoon. E! appears to have out-delivered all other non-news outlets on Tuesday, drawing 800,000 viewers during its coverage of the service, marking a 156 percent improvement from the previous four-week average in the daypart.
All told, E! secured its most-watched weekday ever in its history, averaging 746,000 viewers in total day, more than doubling its year-to-date delivery. The network also notched a record delivery of adults 18-49.
“It was obviously a very good day for us, and as we found throughout the day, people kept coming back,” said Suzanne Kolb, chief marketing officer, E! and The Style Network, who added that there may be a few chapters left in the Michael Jackson story. “I can’t think of any other celebrity who could draw those kind of numbers, and there are still some loose threads. We’re going to follow the story through to the end.”
Comcast Networks ad sales president Dave Cassaro added that the farewell to the King of Pop was “the perfect story for E!,” adding that yesterday’s ratings spike “was a nice shot in the arm for a network that already has some good forward momentum.”
Meanwhile, MTV’s noon-4 p.m. coverage of the event averaged 633,000 viewers, marking a 61 percent improvement from the network’s average over the previous four weeks. Sibling VH1 didn’t draw nearly as many onlookers––the net was actually down 7 percent from its prior four-week average for the time period––but it picked up the pace in prime-time, drawing 884,000 viewers with its 7 p.m.-10 p.m. encore presentation of the memorial, an increase of 69 percent.
Nielsen’s latest estimate was issued late Wednesday afternoon, following a preliminary tally of 30.9 million viewers. All told, 19 networks carried the live feed of the memorial service, including: ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, Headline News, BET, E!, MTV, VH1, VH1 Classic, TV Guide Network, TV One, Telefutura, Telemundo, Univision and MUN2.
When compared to similar media events in the past, the 31.1 million viewers who tuned in Tuesday afternoon put Jackson’s sendoff on a par with President Ronald Reagan’s. On June 11, 2004, 35.1 million Americans paid their respects to the 40th president of the United States, who died at the age of 93. When Princess Diana was waked in Westminster Abbey on the morning of Sept. 6, 1997, some 33.3 million viewers watched between the hours of 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. EDT.
Because the Jackson memorial was held during business hours, millions of fans elected to watch streaming online coverage. While an aggregate estimate of the Internet audience was not available as of late Wednesday afternoon, individual Web sites reported heavy traffic.
Among the cable news nets, MSNBC.com said it served up 19 million streams on Tuesday, while CNN.com had 10.5 million streams. FOXNews.com delivered 3.4 million streams.