Moonwalk Draws 125 Million Viewers; CBS And Cronkite Win Big

Categories: Broadcast TV,Featured

Written By

July 17th, 2009

man_on_moon1

I'm just doing a bit of imagining of the TV by the Numbers post I'd have written the day after the first moonwalk.

I was eight years old and I can still vividly remember watching the broadcast 40 years ago. I'm sure I'll be treated to all sorts of nostalgic moments over the next week.

The broadcast set a number of television milestones that I've excerpted below. Some things that were particularly interesting to me.

  • The moonwalk broadcast had a combined 93 share. A man is going to be walking on the moon for the first time, and 7% of the people were watching something else! (Although note that for New York, the broadcast was measured at a 100 share).
  • CBS' Walter Cronkite ruled, with a 45 share of what was effectively the same thing on all 3 broadcast networks. Update: In a sad coincidence, about 3 hours after I posted this I learned that Cronkite had passed away.
  • It was the first time Alaska had received TV coverage of a live news event. Wow. That's the kind of milestone I'd have associated with the early 50's.
  • TV audience measurement was pre-Nielsen de-facto monopoly, with two competiting companies. How much more difficult life must have been for TV audience measurement conspiracy buffs then. Although, this broadcast was presumably the birth of the "faked" moon landing conspiracy. Conspiracies are created to meet demand!

The following are excerpts from article originally appeared in the July 28, 1969, issue of Broadcasting magazine. Read the entire article here.

The lunar origination lasted five hours and six minutes, with two and a quarter hours showing Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., in their science-fiction space Suits, collecting rocks and in slow motion bouncing weightlessly across the bleak landscape. That was on the night of July 20-21. By 2 p.m. last Thursday (July 24) they and the third member of the crew, Michael Collins, were safely aboard the aircraft carrier Hornet in the mid Pacific, and eight days of grueling television coverage were ended.

It took a minimum of $11 million in expenditures and in revenue loss and an estimated 1,000 personnel for the networks to produce what had to be the biggest show in broadcast history.

The televised moon walk attracted an audience of 125 million in the U.S., almost twice the projections made by the networks when the walk was original scheduled for 2 a.m. EDT on July 21. (It started at 10:52 p.m. July 20.)

Throughout the Apollo coverage, Europe, Latin America and Japan received three network feeds from the international pool coordinator, ABC International, through the satellites over the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. The Communications Satellite Corp. reported that from launch to splashdown, more than 230 hours of satellite time, involving some 200 programs, were transmitted, exceeding the previous record of 225 hours during the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City during an 18-day period last October.

A network of 20 earth stations, interconnected with satellites, carried the TV programs to viewers in the U.S., Latin America, Europe, North Africa, Asia and Australia.

Alaska received the coverage, said to be its first live television reports of a major news event, via an Air Force satellite and an Army antenna. The television signals were routed through commercial broadcasting facilities to the Army's satellite communications agency in Fort Monmouth, N.J., where a fixed antenna sent the signals to the Air Force's Tacsat I Satellite in the Pacific. They were then relayed to an Army antenna terminal in Anchorage.

Although there is no way to count the audience abroad, a plethora of figures is available in the U.S.

National Trendex ratings for the extensive coverage Sunday (July 20), 12 noon to 11 p.m., put CBS in the lead with a 22 rating, 45 share. NBC had a 16.8 rating, 34 share, and ABC a 6.7 rating, 14 share.

National Arbitron figures for 11 a.m. Sunday through 6 p.m. Monday showed CBS leading with a 19.9 rating, 45 share, followed by NBC with 14.8, 33, and ABC with 6.8, 15.

For the splash-down period, 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Thursday (July 24), CBS led the national Arbitrons with a 21.3 rating, 51 share. NBC had a 13.6 rating, 33 share, and ABC a 5.1 rating, 12 share.

Local New York Nielsen ratings for the 42 hours of network coverage throughout the moon mission show NBC and CBS tied with an 11.6 rating, 43 share, and ABC with a 3.7 rating, 14 share. New York Arbitrons put NBC on top with a 10.5 rating, 44 share, compared to CBS's 9.7 rating, 40 share, and ABC's 3.8 ratings, 16 share.

There's a site set up that will stream the audio feed of the entire mission (WeChooseTheMoon.com). For folks my age or older, it's a trip down memory lane.

 
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