First Presidential Debate Broadcast, Cable TV Viewership Down From 2016 in Early Ratings

TV viewers apparently tuned out quickly during the first presidential debate Sept. 29, with the four major broadcasters reporting a 35% decline in viewers who watched incumbent President Donald Trump and Democrat nominee Joe Biden hurl nasty barbs and allegations against the other, according to new data from Nielsen.

First reported by The Hollywood Reporter, 29 million people collectively watched the debate from Cleveland, Ohio, across NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox. Separate reports claimed 27.3 million and 22.8 million, respectively, watched the debate with ABC the winner grabbing 10.3 million viewers. Viewership from pay-TV channels such as MSNBC (6.9 million), CNN (7.9 million) and Fox News — the latter with 17 million — pushed total viewership upwards of 65 million.

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That still trailed the first debate in 2016 between Democrat Hillary Clinton and GOP nominee Donald Trump, where a record 45 million watched on broadcast networks. The tally skyrocketed to 84 million after including cable, satellite and telecom viewers.