CNN’s Trump-Biden Debate Draws Over 51 Million Viewers, 31% Drop From 2020

11.4 million viewers tuned in specifically to CNN linear, streaming and digital properties

Trump Biden Debate June 2024
(Kyle Mazza/Anadolu via Getty Images)

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect current data from Nielsen, which first reported 48 million viewers via its fast national data Friday morning.

Joe Biden and Donald Trump’s debate rematch drew 51.3 million total viewers across all broadcast and cable networks that simulcasted Thursday’s live CNN event, according to Nielsen figures, a 31% drop from the 2020 election cycle debates. 

CNN-specific linear, streaming and digital properties saw 11.4 million people tuned in for the live event, the highest-rated program in network history. Additionally, it was the biggest day on record for CNN on Max and the network saw more than 30 million live starts of the debate on digital platforms and YouTube.

However, when Trump and Biden went head-to-head for the first time in September 2020, over 73 million people watched the debate, according to Nielsen figures. In 2020, Fox News drew 18 million of those viewers, the lion’s share among all the networks. The second match-up between Trump and Biden in the 2020 election cycle fell to 63 million viewers total. 

Every cable and broadcast news network simulcasted Thursday’s debate, however, since the candidates bypassed the Commission on Presidential Debates, CNN implemented strict rules. CNN’s terms included showing the network’s branding on air and not permitting other network talent to provide analysis during the commercial breaks. 

Breaking down the cable networks individually, CNN topped ratings with 9.53 million average viewers and 3.38 million in the 25-54 demographic. Fox News came in second with 9.28 million average total viewers and 1.78 million in the demographic. MSNBC fell behind with 4.12 million total average viewers and 615,000 in the demo, according to Nielsen figures.

As a whole, Fox News Media, which includes Fox Nation, Fox Business Network and other digital properties, averaged 13.42 million viewers during the debate, notching 3.34 million viewers in the 25-54 demographic. NBCUniversal News Group, which includes NBC News, MSNBC and Telemundo, averaged 9.93 million total viewers solely on linear, while the network’s streaming platform NBC News NOW reached its largest audience on record. CNN’s combined linear properties, which include CNN, CNNE and HLN, averaged 9.04 million viewers.

Breaking down the broadcast news networks individually, ABC News notched 9.21 million average total viewers and 2.43 million viewers in the 25-53 demographic. NBC News averaged 5.39 million total viewers and 1.52 million in the demo. CBS News saw 5.01 million average total viewers and 1.39 million in the 25-54 age range.

The media environment has become deeply fractured since 2016 and even 2020, with cord-cutting and social media altering viewing trends, which could have contributed to significantly lower viewership on linear TV.

It should be noted that some news organizations streamed the debate live to TikTok and other platforms on Thursday evening, drawing hundreds of thousands of viewers and millions of live reactions. As of 10:15 p.m. ET, CBS News’ livestream on the platform had 123.4K active viewers, USA Today drew 127K and BBC News saw 64.9K active viewers. These numbers only grew throughout the evening.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Thursday’s presidential debate was a 45% dip in viewership from 2020. The story was edited to reflect 35%, and now 31%, accordingly.

Comments

One response to “CNN’s Trump-Biden Debate Draws Over 51 Million Viewers, 31% Drop From 2020”

  1. Pat c. Avatar
    Pat c.

    I don’t understand the headline total of 51 million viewers. I went through the article and counted up the numbers quoted from the various broadcast/streaming outlets and it came to 78.9 million, not 51.
    Can you please correct the headline.

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