TV Ratings: Comey Coverage Nears 20 Million Viewers

James Comey testifies before the Senate - June 8, 2017- Getty-H 2017
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

ABC wins among total viewers, while CNN wins adults 25-54 — as all nets carrying live coverage surge.

It wasn't exactly the three-ring circus some in the media had hoped for, but Thursday's congressional testimony from ousted FBI Director James Comey blanketed the dial — and at a rather early hour for much of the country.

A healthy tune-in was inevitable, and initial Nielsen Media returns for the nearly three-hour affair show an incredible lift in eyeballs for the broadcasters and news networks covering Comey. Across the six big networks airing live coverage — ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC — the testimony pulled in around 18 million viewers. Add Univision, Fox Business News and CNBC, and the total climbs to 19.4 million viewers.

That linear tally for testimony coverage should climb even more as additional network data comes in, but the biggest boost may come from digital. Plenty of viewers (many of them at work during the 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. ET time frame) streamed Comey coverage on various online outlets. CNN, for one, saw 769,000 concurrent streams at one point — with a total of 3.9 million stream initiations during the coverage.

Comey's grilling, which found him recounting several awkward encounters with President Donald Trump in an effort to determine any potential presidential wrongdoing, was the marquee event in another eventful week covering the Trump administration. The cable news networks went wall-to-wall with Comey analysis for the duration of Thursday, even as news of the British election came in.

Individual networks faring best during coverage include ABC, which locked the total viewer race with nearly 3.3 million viewers, and CNN. The latter topped in the news demo of adults 25-54 with over 1 million viewers. Among the cable news networks, FNC narrowly had the total audience advantage with 3.1 million viewers to CNN's 3.05 million. The resulting primetime postmortem brought a demo victory for MSNBC and an audience win for FNC.

Others obviously benefited from all of the Comey interest — Stephen Colbert being one of them. An original Late Show surged 65 percent from the comparable night a year ago, averaging a 2.8 rating among metered market households. (That's the best overnight since the show's 2015 premiere week.)