Show an ad over header. AMP

I am the FIRST

Over 73 million people watched the first debate on TV

Data: Nielsen; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

More than 73.1million people watched the first presidential debate on television on Monday night, according to Nielsen ratings.

Why it matters: While that's a sizable audience for any American TV program, it's down more than 13% from the record number of TV viewers who tuned in for the first debate of the 2016 election. The chaotic nature of the debate and the overall uncertainty around this year's election may have pushed some viewers away.

  • The ratings drop could also reflect the fact that more people are streaming compared to 2016, since Nielsen ratings only measure traditional TV viewership. About 15% fewer American households have Pay-TV now than did in 2016.
  • There's no way of measuring exactly how many people streamed the debate or watched clips of it on social media, but millions more Americans presumably tuned in online.

Details: As was true of this year's conventions, viewership on broadcast networks like ABC, NBC, FOX and CBS was down substantially this year compared to cable.

  • Fox News, for example, said the debate drew the highest number of viewers for a debate in its history. Fox News drew the overall highest number of viewers this year, followed by ABC, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, CBS and FOX (the broadcast network).
  • Broadly speaking, broadcast viewership has been down during the fall season due to the pandemic. Broadcast news networks tend to attract fewer partisan viewers than their cable counterparts.

Between the lines: Despite the fact that viewership was down, most people that did tune in were glued to their screens.

  • Most viewers (90%) watched more than six minutes of the 90-minute debate, and just over half (54%) watched 56+ minutes of it, with the average person watching for 49 minutes, according to an analysis from MiQ, a marketing intelligence company,
  • Viewership peaked between 9:30 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. ET, during questions about showing up to rallies and the economy.

The big picture: Despite drawing fewer TV viewers this cycle than last, the first debate drew a sizable audience.

  • At least twice as many viewers tuned into the debate compared to any night during the Democratic or Republican conventions. Aside from the Super Bowl, the debate was likely one of the most-watched television events in America this year.
  • Up until Tuesday's event, first debate viewership had been rising for the past three presidential cycles. The first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump drew a record 84 million viewers, the highest-rated first debate in history.
  • Tuesday was the third most-watched first debate since 1976.

Our thought bubble: For President Trump, a former reality TV star, TV ratings are a proxy for popularity, so it's no surprise that the president tweeted approval of the ratings Wednesday afternoon.

  • "HIGHEST CABLE TELEVISION RATINGS OF ALL TIME. SECOND HIGHEST OVERALL TELEVISION RATINGS OF ALL TIME. Some day these Fake Media Companies are going to miss me, very badly!!!" he tweeted.

What's next: The event, which was described as a "dumpster fire" by some pundits, has sparked a debate over how the remaining debates could be conducted. The Commission on Presidential Debates on Wednesday said it wants "additional structure" for the remaining debates, which are on the following dates:

  • Oct. 7: Vice presidential debate
  • Oct. 15: Second presidential debate
  • Oct. 22: Third presidential debate

Go deeper: Chris Wallace struggles to control debate from Trump interruptions

regular 4 post ff

infinite scroll 4 pff

Why the startup world needs to ditch "unicorns" for "dragons"

When Aileen Lee originally coined the term "unicorn" in late 2013, she was describing the 39 "U.S.-based software companies started since 2003 and valued at over $1 billion by public or private market investors."

Flashback: It got redefined in early 2015 by yours truly and Erin Griffith, in a cover story for Fortune, as any privately-held startup valued at $1 billion or more. At the time, we counted 80 of them.

Keep reading... Show less

Scoop: Facebook's new moves to lower News Feed's political volume

Facebook plans to announce that it will de-emphasize political posts and current events content in the News Feed based on negative user feedback, Axios has learned. It also plans to expand tests to limit the amount of political content that people see in their News Feeds to more countries outside of the U.S.

Why it matters: The changes could reduce traffic to some news publishers, particularly companies that post a lot of political content.

Keep reading... Show less



Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories