First Presidential Debate Pulls Nielsen-Measured 73.1 Million Viewers, Down Vs. 2016

A wild Presidential debate TV rumble -- with the President continually interrupting, as noted by the moderator, Fox News Channel’s Chris Wallace -- did not pull in record levels of viewers.

The first of three planned Presidential debates between Donald Trump and Joe Biden was down 13% to 73.1 million TV viewers across 16 networks versus the first Presidential debate in 2016 between Trump and Hillary Clinton, which pulled in 84 million viewers.

Among the top nine TV networks, Fox News Channel came in with 17.8 million viewers, followed by ABC at 12.6 million, NBC with 9.7 million, CNN at 8.3 million, MSNBC with 7.2 million, CBS at 6.4 million, Fox Television Network with 5.4 million, Fox Business Network at 758,000 and CNN en Espanol, with 51,000 viewers.

Other networks that aired the debate include Univision, Telemundo, PBS, Newsmax, Newsy, Vice, and WGN America.



Nielsen says connected TV platforms can contribute 11% for TV political events.

The debate ran from 9 p.m. to approximately 11 p.m. ET.

Of the 73.1 million total viewers, viewers 55 and up comprised 40.5 million, with 35- to-54-year-old viewers at 20.3 million and 18-34 viewers at 8.4 million.

Vizio’s Inscape says CNN and MSNBC were the only two of those networks to show rising viewership, with programming analysis content that followed the actual debate.

Inscape says nearly 60% of smart TVs tuned in to the debate. Inscape has a panel of more than 16 million smart TV sets.

3 comments about "First Presidential Debate Pulls Nielsen-Measured 73.1 Million Viewers, Down Vs. 2016".
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  1. David Scardino from TV & Film Content Development, October 1, 2020 at 2 p.m.

    Wayne, if you could get any quarter-hour-by-quarter hour breakdowns, that would be great. It would be interesting to see the tune-out after the first half hour or so.

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, October 1, 2020 at 4:07 p.m.

    David, I saw something from a non-Nielsen source on Linkedin to the effect that tune out occured but not to a large extent until the final 20 minutes or so. Also, there was an instant spike to watch what the CNN people had to say at the end of the debate. I'd post a link but Linkedin is, suddenly sick---or something---so I can't explore my feed and find the referrence.

  3. David Scardino from TV & Film Content Development replied, October 1, 2020 at 4:09 p.m.

    Thanks, Ed, and much appreciated.

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