Romney-Obama Tilt Draws 65.6 Million Viewers

NBC, ABC, Twitter among the night's biggest winners

The clear winner of presidential debate No. 2: television.

Last night’s town hall debate between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney drew an average 65.6 million viewers on the Big Four broadcast networks and the top cable news outlets. Broadcast accounted for two-thirds of the total draw.

Per Nielsen fast-national data, NBC beat all comers, drawing 13.8 million viewers from 9 p.m. to 10:45 p.m. ABC took second place on the night, averaging 12.5 million viewers while Fox News took the bronze (11.1 million).

CBS’ coverage of the commercial-free exchange drew 8.92 million viewers while CNN (5.75 million), MSNBC (4.91 million) and the Fox broadcast network (4.6 million) finished at the back of the pack.

All told, the audience for the second Obama-Romney showdown was fractionally smaller than the 67.2 million viewers who tuned in for the Oct. 3 debate.

The cable numbers were particularly telling, as Fox News outdelivered CNN and MSNBC combined in total viewers. The battle for the core news demo was a bit tighter, as FNC averaged 3.46 million adults 25-to-54 while CNN delivered 2.58 million. MSNBC finished third with a delivery of 1.92 million members of the demo.

As is always the case, the debate drew a large cohort of older viewers, as nearly half the audience (30.7 million) was over age 55. Only 11.2 million of those who tuned in fell into the 18-to-34 demo.

According to TiVo Research and Analytics (TRA), the most-watched moment during last night’s debate arrived when moderator Candy Crowley gave the floor to an undecided voter, who asked a question about workforce inequalities for women.

TRA gauges the interest in programming content by measuring the most rewound and re-watched moments in the debate. 

The biggest viral moment? Romney’s utterance of the phrase “binders full of women.” In response to that same voter’s question about equal pay, the Republican candidate spoke about his efforts to recruit women to work in the Massachusetts State House.

“I went to a number of women’s groups and said, ‘Can you help us find folks,’ and they brought us whole binders full of women," he said.

Predictably enough, Twitter erupted. An account listed as @RomneyBinders went live and scared up 32,000 followers in just two hours. As of late this afternoon, the account had 33,565 followers.

Frivolity aside, the presidential race is pouring ad dollars into the coffers of local stations and the national networks, and the total spend for 2012 is expected to top $1 billion.

Per SMG Delta/NBC News, the three regions that are being targeted by the greatest political spend are the battleground states—Florida, Ohio and Virginia. All told, $452 million in campaign and super PAC buys have been made in the three states, accounting for more than half of the $800 million total spent to date.

Obama and Romney meet for a final debate on Oct. 22 at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. Face the Nation (CBS) host Bob Schieffer will moderate.