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Trump-Clinton Second Debate Ratings Fall 21% With 66.5 Million Viewers

Trump Clinton roundtable Debate
AP Photo/John Locher

UPDATED: A hefty 66.5 million people tuned in to the second presidential debate on Sunday across 11 networks, including PBS, according to numbers from ratings giant Nielsen. That’s enough to top 2012’s second debate with Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, which pulled in 65.6 million viewers, and all other second installments that occurred after 1992 (69.9 million).

However, it’s also almost 18 million viewers — or 21% — less than the first debate between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump garnered.
CBS drew the lion’s share of the viewers with 16.46 million, followed by ABC with 11.5 million and CNN with 11.29 million.

CNN outdrew everyone except CBS in the 25-54 demographic, the age range cable news advertisers care about, with 4.86 million in that demo. CBS drew 6.41 million 25-54-year-olds. ABC followed with 4.64 million, Fox News with 2.93 million,Fox Broadcasting with 2.82 million, and MSNBC with 1.76 million.

CNN also topped Fox News (9.89 million) and MSNBC (5.54 million) in total viewers.

NBC didn’t air the second presidential debate on Sunday night: It had a Giants-Packers NFL game that drew 14.84 million viewers from 8:30 to 11 p.m.

The 63.6 million figure includes viewers who watched on CBS, ABC, Fox, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, Univision, PBS, Fox Business Network, CNBC, and Azteca.

Streaming numbers will likely inflate the 66.5 million number, though outlets that live-streamed the debates seldom give out the average viewership per minute for their streams, and thus those numbers can’t simply be added to the TV viewership. Digital outlets count the number of streams started, which isn’t analogous to TV ratings.

For what it’s worth, CNN’s live stream of the debate was started 2.3 million times.

Comparisons to 2012’s second presidential debate are difficult, given that NBC didn’t air the debate on Sunday.

In 2012, NBC had the highest number of viewers for the second presidential debate, which aired on Oct. 16, with 13.8 million. ABC drew 12.5 million and CBS reeled in an audience of 8.9 million, with Fox coming in last among the broadcasters at 4.6 million.

In Nielsen’s overnight metered markets, Sunday’s 9-10:40 p.m. ET debate averaged a 37.2 household rating and 53 share. That’s down 19% from the 46.2/63 overnight rating for their first debate. That contest wound up setting a record for presidential debate viewership with 84 million viewers.

Nielsen’s 56 overnight metered markets reach about 70% of TV households in the U.S.

However Sunday’s overnight ratings exclude markets that were battered this weekend by Hurricane Matthew: Jacksonville and Orlando in Florida, Norfolk, Va., and Raleigh-Durham, N.C.

Among the major networks, CBS drew the largest audience with a 10.4 household rating/15 share. Those numbers are subject to significant revision because the debate aired live across the country. CBS appeared to benefit from the fact that NBC stuck with its regular “Sunday Night Football” schedule and did not carry the debate. ABC averaged 7.3/10 for the debate while Fox trailed with 3.6/5.

CBS drew a 7.4/10 for the first debate compared to NBC’s 10.9/15.

Among the cable news networks, CNN appeared to draw the largest audience with a 6.6 household ratings and a 9 share, followed by Fox News Channel, then MSNBC.