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Big audience tunes in for O'Malley-Ehrlich debate

If the TV audience for Monday night's debate is any indication, there is big interest in the governor's race between incumbent Martin O'Malley and his GOP challenger Bob Ehrlich. In fact, interest appears to be as high as it was in 2006 when the two slugged it out in that hotly contested race, according to debate ratings comparisons.

The overall audience in the Baltimore market Monday night for the contentious debate was 150,000 viewers. The debate, which was taped earlier in the day at WJZ, aired on both the CBS-owned station and Maryland Public Television (MPT). Of those 150,000 viewers, 86 percent watched on WJZ, with the remaining 14 percent tuned to MPT. The combined audience was 80 percent higher than the nearest competition on any other channel in the Baltimore market.

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Because the ratings are provided by the Nielsen Local People Meters that were installed in Baltimore last year, we also have some overnight demographic data.

According to Nielsen, 54 percent of the Baltimore audience for the debate was 55 years of age or older.

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But challenging the conventional wisdom that it is only older citizens who are interested in such political and news programming, 36 percent of the audience was 25 to 54 years of age, and that is the prime demographic for news.

The audience of viewers under 24 years old was 10 percent.

In terms of gender, it was an almost even split with 51 percent of the audience men, and 49 percent women.

During the last governor's race, a debate was also held at WJZ. That took place on Oct. 16, 2006. And allowing for differences in measurement technology, the audience levels are basically the same, according to station management at WJZ.

"The strong ratings – with 150,000 people watching – indicate that Maryland voters are highly engaged in this year's hotly contested Maryland gubernatorial election," said Jay Newman, WJZ general manager. "WJZ was pleased to have the opportunity to provide the debate as a public service.  We're happy with the viewer response."

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