UPDATED: We finally have a complete picture of how many people in total watched the third and final debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The total across 13 networks, including PBS, Spanish-language channels Univision and Telemundo and Azteca, stands at 71.6 million viewers.
That total puts Wednesday night’s finale at the third-largest audience for a presidential debate, behind the first Clinton-Trump debate (84 million) and the final Carter-Reagan bout in 1980 (80.6), but ahead of the second Bush-Clinton-Perot melee in 1992, and the first Ford-Carter showdown in 1976. However, because of differences in the number of households and number of people aged 2 and up, it might not be the second highest-rated. Wednesday’s average audience was 23.7% of Nielsen’s estimated population of persons 2 and older in TV households (301.7 million). Comparisons to the second debate of 2016 are difficult, because NBC was airing a “Sunday Night Football” game instead of the debate, but the town hall-style meeting on Oct. 9 ultimately brought in 66.5 million viewers.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Fox News drew the largest audience of the night, with 11.3 million total viewers. The debate was moderated by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, and debate audiences tend to cluster some around the network of origin for the moderator.
In more final broadcast ratings than those released this morning, ABC brought in 11 million total viewers, NBC drew 10.4 million, CBS brought in 10.12, and Fox brought in 6.6 million.
CNN drew 8.7 million total viewers, beating MSNBC’s 5.5 million total. Fox Business Network added 714,000 viewers to the tally, and CNBC contributed 547,000. PBS added another 2.7 million viewers onto an already impressive total.
These figures also don’t include streaming viewership. While an undoubtedly large number of people watched via the Internet, online outlets typically only talk about viewership in number of streams started, a measurement not analogous to TV ratings, which represent the average viewers per minute of a telecast.
Most of the outlets live streaming the debate offered their streams on a global basis, too, meaning more people had access to those outlets’ offering than that televised by American networks.
In Nielsen’s earlier, non-time zone-adjusted ratings, the third Clinton-Trump debate saw a viewership gain from the candidates’ second meeting, but the turnout didn’t top the blockbuster number delivered by the first debate last month.
According to preliminary Nielsen estimates, Wednesday’s debate delivered a 39.7 overnight household rating across seven networks, up from the 37.2 rating for the Oct. 9 debate, which went up against NFL competition on NBC, which siphoned off a chunk of the viewing populace. The Sept. 26 face-off that kicked off the three Clinton-Trump debates grabbed a 46.2 overnight rating, which translated to some 84 million viewers, once final viewership across 11 networks (including PBS) was tallied.
NBC, ABC and Fox News lead viewership in a tight contest for bragging rights. NBC and ABC both grabbed a 6.6 rating/10 share in Nielsen’s 56 overnight metered markets, which cover about 70% of U.S. TV households.
Fox News Channel was right behind with a 6.5/9. CBS was on the heels of its broadcast rivals with 6.1/9, followed by CNN (5.7/8), Fox broadcast network (4.6/7) and MSNBC (3.6/5).
Nielsen’s preliminary estimates for the commercial-free live telecast, which ran roughly 9 p.m.-10:40 p.m. ET, are subject to significant revision when final national ratings are released later today. These ratings are not time-zone adjusted.
The top five local markets for the debate were: Fort Myers, Fla. (52.3), West Palm Beach, Fla. (49.6), Pittsburgh (46.2), Atlanta (46) and New York City (45.5).