LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - An estimated 22.8 million people watched U.S. election returns on television on Tuesday night, according to preliminary ratings cited by Hollywood outlets The Wrap and the Hollywood Reporter, suggesting viewership may be down from election night in 2016.
They cited early Nielsen data across six networks - Walt Disney Co's ABC, Fox, Comcast Corp's NBC, CBS and Spanish-language channels Univision and Telemundo.
The Wrap said the preliminary figures showed a shortfall of several million viewers across the six networks compared to early data reported on election night in 2016.
However the data did not include cable television and it was unclear what time frame was measured for the programming, which stretched into the early hours of Wednesday as the outcome of the presidential election between Republican incumbent Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden remained in the balance.
Numbers are expected to rise when final Nielsen data across multiple networks is released later on Wednesday.
According to final data in 2016, 71.4 million people watched across 13 U.S. networks when Trump scored a surprise victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton. The election night record was set in 2008, when 71.5 million tuned in on television.
The biggest annual event on U.S. television, the Super Bowl football championship, draws roughly 100 million viewers.
The TV ratings do not include viewership via online platforms, which have jumped in popularity as traditional TV watching has declined.
(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Lisa Shumaker)