Presidential debate draws 52 million

Forum's ratings decent despite Friday slot

The first presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama drew a sizable aud on Friday, topping two of the three such get-togethers from 2004.

According to Nielsen estimates, an average aud of 52.42 million watched live from 9 to roughly 10:40 p.m. ET on ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, Telefutura, Telemundo, BBC-America, CNBC, CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC. (PBS, not tracked by Nielsen, estimates it drew 2.6 million.)

This was down from the first debate four years ago (62.5 million for George Bush and John Kerry) but it topped the only Friday presidential debate of that year (46.7 million). By comparison, the final nights of both the Democratic and Republican conventions a month ago (airing on Thursdays) drew between 38 and 39 million viewers.

Nielsen did not break out individual broadcast network tallies because the event ran “sustained” (without commercials). In cable results, however, Fox News led the way (8.21 million), followed by CNN (7.14m) and MSNBC (3.92).

The first vice-presidential debate is set for Thursday night, with two more prexy debates on tap for Oct. 7 and 15.

— Rick Kissell

More TV

  • THE RESIDENT: L-R: Manish Dayal, guest

    TV Review: 'The Resident' on Fox

    The first presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama drew a sizable aud on Friday, topping two of the three such get-togethers from 2004. According to Nielsen estimates, an average aud of 52.42 million watched live from 9 to roughly 10:40 p.m. ET on ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, Telefutura, Telemundo, BBC-America, CNBC, CNN, Fox […]

  • SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- "Jessica Chastain"

    'Saturday Night Live' Parodies Amazon's Search for a Headquarters Home (Watch)

    The first presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama drew a sizable aud on Friday, topping two of the three such get-togethers from 2004. According to Nielsen estimates, an average aud of 52.42 million watched live from 9 to roughly 10:40 p.m. ET on ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, Telefutura, Telemundo, BBC-America, CNBC, CNN, Fox […]

  • Fisher Stevens, Ross Kauffman Team for

    Fisher Stevens, Ross Kauffman Team for Discovery Documentary 'Taken By the Tiger'

    The first presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama drew a sizable aud on Friday, topping two of the three such get-togethers from 2004. According to Nielsen estimates, an average aud of 52.42 million watched live from 9 to roughly 10:40 p.m. ET on ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, Telefutura, Telemundo, BBC-America, CNBC, CNN, Fox […]

  • Peter Dinklage Thinks It's 'the Perfect

    Peter Dinklage on Why It's 'the Perfect Time' to End 'Game of Thrones'

    The first presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama drew a sizable aud on Friday, topping two of the three such get-togethers from 2004. According to Nielsen estimates, an average aud of 52.42 million watched live from 9 to roughly 10:40 p.m. ET on ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, Telefutura, Telemundo, BBC-America, CNBC, CNN, Fox […]

  • NBCUniversal Content Studio Plucks Peacock TV

    NBCUniversal Content Studio Plucks Peacock TV Talent for Branded Video

    The first presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama drew a sizable aud on Friday, topping two of the three such get-togethers from 2004. According to Nielsen estimates, an average aud of 52.42 million watched live from 9 to roughly 10:40 p.m. ET on ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, Telefutura, Telemundo, BBC-America, CNBC, CNN, Fox […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content