Debate viewership biggest in 16 years

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Tuesday night's town-hall-style joust between John McCain and Barack Obama resonated with viewers who made it the most-watched presidential debate since 1992.

The 90-minute showdown averaged 63.2 million viewers across all the networks, Nielsen Media Research said late Wednesday. That's 21% more than the first debate two weeks ago (52.4 million). But it couldn't hold a ratings candle to the Sarah Palin-Joe Biden vp debate last week, which averaged 70 million viewers.

This debate was nothing but a win for ABC News and CNN. ABC News won its third straight debate in the ratings, while CNN was the top network among the cable news channels. ABC News averaged 13.1 million viewers, compared with NBC's 10.9 million, CBS' 9.4 million and Fox's 5.3 million.

CNN had 9.2 million viewers, compared with Fox News' 8.8 million, MSNBC's 3.8 million and CNBC's 842,000.

"We've made a consistent commitment to the story," ABC News president David Westin said Wednesday.

Paul J. Gough reported from Nashville; James Hibberd reported from Los Angeles.
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