37.2 Million Watch Vice Presidential Debate

By A.J. Katz 

The sole vice presidential debate of 2016 between Governor Mike Pence and Senator Tim Kaine turned out to be a surprisingly fiery affair, but did that translate into hot ratings for the cable news and broadcast networks?

Not so much. Moderated by CBSN’s Elaine Quijano, Tuesday night’s debate drew 37.16 million total viewers across nine networks, per early Nielsen data. 13.77 million watched on cable (Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, Fox Business), while 23.32 million watched on the English language broadcast nets (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and PBS). This is the lowest total for a VP debate since the 29 million who tuned into CheneyLieberman in 2000.

From a historical perspective, Pence-Kaine is down 28 percent from BidenRyan in 2012 and down 47 percent from the record-setting Biden-Palin debate in 2008. It’s also down 56 percent from the 84.01 million total viewers across 12 linear networks who tuned into the first presidential debate of 2016. Biden-Ryan aired on 12 Nielsen-measured networks and Biden-Palin aired on 11 Nielsen-measured networks.

  • 2016 Vice Presidential Debate | Total Viewers / A25-54 demo

NBC – 7,028,000 / 2,950,000
CBS – 6,462,000 / 1,884,000
ABC – 6,149,000 / 1,858,000
FNC – 6,083,000 / 1,506,000
CNN – 4,167,000 / 1,680,000
MSNBC- 3,125,000 / 908,000
FOX – 2,208,000 / 1,107,000
PBS – 1,470,000 / 455,000
FBN – 392,000 / 84,000

NBC was the No. 1 network both in total viewers and in the key A25-54 demo for last night’s debate, as was the case with last week’s presidential debate. It was down 10.5 percent in total viewers and down 17 percent in the demo compared to the 2012 VP debate. Fox News was the top cable news network in total viewers, while CNN finished No. 1 in the news demo. FNC fell 39 percent in total viewers and -51 percent in the key demo from 2012. CNN lost less than 1 percent of its total audience from 2012, and was the only Nielsen-measured network to see improvement in the news demo from 2012: +9 percent.

Back on broadcast, CBS finished runner up to NBC, both in total viewers and in the key demo. Despite a solid total viewer lead-in from NCIS, CBS fell 22 percent in total viewers and fell 45 percent in the news demo relative to its 2012 VP debate telecast.

ABC fell 26 percent in total viewers and -38 percent in the news demo relative to 2012. FOX fell 56 percent in total viewers and fell 54.5 percent in the news demo compared to 2012.

Linear networks C-Span and Fusion aren’t publicly rated by Nielsen. Additionally, neither CNBC nor Spanish language broadcasters Univision, Telemundo or Azteca America televised the debate. The three televised last week’s presidential debate.

Expect ratings for this coming Sunday’s presidential debate to be low relative to the first iteration. NBC won’t be airing the debate because of Sunday Night Football commitments. And with Hurricane Matthew set to scrape the Southeast later this week there is the possibility of power outages, which could impact debate ratings.