Last night’s first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden was regarded as an un-watchable mess by many. And sure enough it’s on course to garner a much smaller viewership than the previous election cycle.
The debate drew an estimated 73.1 million total viewers, according to Nielsen. That represents 13 million viewer dip from the first Trump-Hillary Clinton debate, which drew 84.4 million viewers across 13 networks, the biggest audience in the 60-year history of televised debates. However, this debate (broadcast across ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, Telemundo, Univision, PBS, CNN, CNNe, Fox Business Network, Fox News, MSNBC, Newsmax, Newsy, Vice and WGNA) beat both of the other 2016 debates, which drew 66.5 and 71.5 million viewers respectively. In 2012, 67.2 million watched the opening debate.
Looking at the networks individually, Fox News scored the largest audience with 17.8 million viewers, easily beating its tallies from the previous cycle. ABC was a distant second with 12.6 million total viewers, while NBC came third with just under 10 million. CNN beat out MSNBC with 8.3 million viewers to the latter’s 7.2 million. CBS and Fox brought up the rear with 6.4 and 5.4 million viewers.
Telemundo and Univision added around 2.7 million pairs of eyeballs combined, while Fox Business drew 758,000.
Prior to the 2016 election cycle, the most watched debate was the sole 1980 sparring session between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, which drew around 81 million pairs of eyeballs. The previous most watched debate was the 1980 contest between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan — the only one between the two candidates — which drew 80.6 million total viewers. In the 2012 election cycle, the most watched debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney drew just over 67 million total viewers.
Elsewhere on broadcast last night, “The Weakest Link” premiered to a solid 1.3 rating and 6.1 million total viewers. “Love Island” scored a 0.6 and 2.8 million viewers for CBS, while a new episode of “Cosmos: Possible Worlds” delivered a 0.5 and just over 2 million viewers.