71.6 Million Watch Final 2016 Debate; Fox News is Most-Watched; NBC Tops in Demo

By A.J. Katz Comment

ChrisWallaceDebate

With FNC’s Chris Wallace in the moderator chair, Fox News was the most-watched TV network for the third and final presidential debate. The network drew 11.349 million viewers from 9 to 10:30, per Nielsen Media Research. ABC was next with 10.9 million. Interestingly, ABC had a very non-politics, family-friendly lead in of the 50-year-old It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown followed by Toy Story of Terror.

NBC was most-watched in the A25-54 demo with 4.47 million viewers. Its lead-in was Blindspot.

A total of 71,562,000 watched on 13 Nielsen-rated TV networks in addition to Fusion and Bloomberg, which are not publicly rated. That makes it the most-watched third presidential debate ever, topping the 66.9 million that watched the final 1992 debate. Last night’s debate drew 5 million more than the second debate, but 13 million fewer than the first debate on Sept. 26.

  • 2016 Presidential Debate No. 3 | Total Viewers / A25-54 demo

FNC – 11,349,000 / 3,500,000
ABC – 10,962,000 / 4,365,000
NBC – 10,393,000 / 4,472,000
CBS – 10,120,000/ 3,703,000
CNN – 8,712,000 / 3,462,000
FOX – 6,622,000 / 3,137,000
MSNBC – 5,517,000 / 1,801,000
PBS – 2,850,000 / 997,000
UNI – 2,400,000 / 1,200,000
TEL – 1,485,000 / 677,000
FBN – 714,000 / 131,000
CNBC – 456,000 / 232,000
Azteca America – TBD

The Big 3 of Fox News, CNN and MSNBC delivered a combined 25.6 million total viewers last night, down a bit from the first two debates in total viewers, but up double digits from debate No. 3 of 2012 (+19 percent), and debate No. 3 of 2008 (+18 percent), primarily thanks to MSNBC’s improvement.

ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX combined for 38.1 million total viewers last night. That’s -23 percent from the first debate, mostly because of NBC’s worse-than-expected performance. Taking FOX out of the equation (which aired MLB playoffs in 2012 and 2008), ABC, CBS and NBC combined for 31.5 million total viewers, a -3 percent decline from debate No. 3 of 2012, but +1 percent from debate No. 3 of 2008.

NETWORK BREAKDOWN

Fox News, the No. 1 network in total viewers, improved by +15 percent from the second debate, was even with the first debate, was down 1 percent from debate No. 3 of 2012, but +25 percent from debate No. 3 of 2008. The network, which didn’t perform as well as its broadcast counterparts in the news demo, still managed to edge CNN in the category. FNC improved by +20 percent in the demo from the second 2016 debate, was -1 percent from the first debate, +2 percent from the third debate of 2012, and +18 percent from the third debate of 2008.

After defeating its rival in the first two debate among A25-54, and the second debate in total viewers, CNN was -23 percent in total viewers from the second debate, -11 percent from the first debate, +49 percent from the third debate of 2012, but -2 percent from debate No. 3 of 2008. CNN was -29 percent in A25-54 from the second debate, -22 percent in the demo from the first debate,  +38 percent from debate No. 3 of 2012, but -20 percent from debate No. 3 of 2008.

MSNBC finished behind Fox News and CNN, but still managed to perform well relative to previous debate. The network held steady in total viewers compared to the second debate, was +13 percent from the first debate, +35 percent from debate No. 3 of 2012, and +48 from debate No. 3 of 2008. In the news demo, MSNBC grew +2 percent from the second debate, +14 percent from the first debate, +5 percent from debate No. 3 of 2012, and +16 percent from debate No. 3 of 2008.

With NBC back in the fold for the third and final debate, ABC, CBS and FOX predictably saw a ratings drop from the second debate.

ABC, the No. 1 broadcast network in total viewers, was still -5 percent in total viewers from the second debate, -19 percent from the first debate, -7 percent from debate No. 3 of 2012, but +3 percent from debate No. 3 of 2008. In A25-54, ABC was -6 percent from the second debate,  -9 percent from the first debate, even with debate No. 3 in 2012, but -10 percent from debate No. 3 in 2008.

NBC was -43 percent in total viewers from the first debate, -16 percent from debate No. 3 of 2012, and -9 percent from debate No. 3 in 2008. The Peacock, which won the demo, was still -46 percent from the first debate, -23 percent from debate No. 3 of 2012, and -27 from debate No. 3 of 2008. A less than stellar night despite the A25-54 win.

CBS, which was the greatest beneficiary of NBC’s absence from the second debate, was -39 percent in total viewers from the second debate, -16 percent from the first debate, but was +20 percent from debate No. 3 in 2012, and +11 percent from debate No. 3 in 2008. Looking at A25-54, CBS was -42 compared to the second debate, -22 from the first debate, +4 percent from debate No. 3 in 2012, but -11 percent from debate No. 3 in 2008. CBS was the only one of the Big 3 to see total viewer growth from the third debate of both the 2012 and 2008 cycles.

FOX, Wallace’s home network, predictably saw a ratings bump from the first two debates. The network was +18 percent in total viewers from the second debate, and +19 percent from the first debate. In terms of the news demo, FOX was +11 from the second debate and +16 from the first debate.

PBS NewsHour’s broadcast of the final debate delivered of 2.65 million viewers. This marked a +12 percent growth from four years ago, when the PBS NewsHour Debates 2012 third debate delivered of 2.36 million viewers. Across the three presidential debates in 2016, PBS averaged 2.78 million viewers. This marked a +15 percent growth in average audience size for the three presidential debates in 2012.​

Fox Business Network finished ahead of rival CNBC in total viewers, but struggled in the news demo and fell short to CNBC. FBN was +26 percent in total viewers from the second debate, and +6 percent from the first debate. The network struggled in A25-54, -13 percent from the second debate and -8 percent from the first debate. All in all, it was a solid night for the Fox family of networks.

CNBC was +15 percent in total viewers from the second debate, but -12 percent from the first debate. The network grew in the A25-54 news demo, +24 percent from the second debate, and +1 percent from the first debate.

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