The second (and final) Donald Trump vs. Joe Biden presidential debate earned 63 million total viewers across 15 networks, according to final Nielsen numbers. That’s 10.1 million fewer viewers than their first debate, which drew 73.1 million viewers.
The first debate of the 2020 election cycle, on Sept. 29, aired across 16 channels — ABC, CBS, NBC, Telemundo, Univision, PBS, CNN, CNN en Español, Fox Business Network, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, Newsmax, Newsy, Vice and WGNA — but last night, Fox’s broadcast network aired “Thursday Night Football.”
The 15 networks that carried last night’s debate were the same that aired the first alongside Fox.
Fox’s broadcast network had attracted 5.4 million total viewers for the first 2020 presidential debate. Even if you factored that out, Trump-Biden 2 was down nearly 5 million viewers across the exact same 15 channels.
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Each of the three 2016 debates did better than Thursday’s simulcast. The first two of 2012 did as well, though last night’s political event out-performed the final Barack Obama vs. Mitt Romney round.
The record-holder is the first Trump vs. Hillary Clinton debate of 2016, which landed a whopping 84 million total viewers. The final Trump-Clinton debate posted 71.6 million viewers across 13 platforms.
Nielsen didn’t measure out-of-home viewing or viewing on connected TVs back then, but it does now. Of course, not a ton of people are doing anything out-of-home amid the coronavirus pandemic.
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From 9 p.m. ET to 10:45 p.m. ET last night, Fox News led the way with an average of 14.7 million viewers, ABC was second with 10.7 million. NBC finished in a close third place with 10.2 million viewers and CNN was fourth with 7.2 million. MSNBC was fifth with 6.7 million and CBS was sixth with 5.5 million.
Fox News, ABC, CNN and MSNBC and CBS all declined from the first debate to the second, but NBC (whose White House reporter Kristen Welker moderated last night’s standoff) rose.
The debate portion of the program started at 9 p.m. ET and ran a few minutes past its planned 10:30 p.m. ET cutoff. The same thing happened with the first debate.
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Thursday marked the second debate between Trump and Biden, but it was supposed to be the third.
After contracting COVID-19, Trump refused to participate in a second, virtual debate. Instead, the two candidates held dueling town hall events. Biden won that ratings battle.
Of course, the real winner of the 2020 election cycle will (hopefully) be determined on Nov. 3.