Over 84 Million Watched the First 2016 Presidential Debate

By A.J. Katz 

The first of three 2016 presidential debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump sparked some interesting live reactions from the internet, and delivered significant ratings for the cable and broadcast networks. Per Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, a total of 84 million viewers tuned into the highly-anticipated face-off at Hofstra University on Long Island, making it the most-watched presidential debate in U.S. television history.

Thirteen Nielsen-measured English and Spanish language networks presented live coverage of the debate: CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Fox Business, CNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, PBS, Univision, Azteca America and Telemundo. C-Span, Fusion and several streaming services also presented debate coverage, but they aren’t publicly rated by Nielsen. Streaming service CBSN had 1.5 million viewers and another 2 million watched on YouTube via six news organizations that streamed the debate. Yahoo News with Katie Couric received more than 5 million video views, both live and VOD.

In terms of the social nature of the debate, there were 17.1 million Twitter interactions from 2.7 million people in the U.S.


The 84.011 million total viewer figure is a +25 percent improvement from the first debate of the 2012 presidential election season, which delivered a combined 67.2 million total viewers across just 12 networks (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, Telemundo, Univision, PBS, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, CurrentTV and CNBC) on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012.  Again, that number does not include viewers watching online, or on unrated networks like C-Span.

NBC, which finished No. 1 in both key categories Monday night, delivered the most growth in total viewers from the first Obama-Romney debate in 2012 (+64 percent). CNN delivered the most A25-54 growth from that same debate (+87 percent). Fox News improved 9 percent in total viewers and +20 percent in A25-54. MSNBC improved 3 percent in total viewers but actually fell 15 percent in the news demo. (Did those viewers go to CNN last night?)

ABC improved 20 percent in total viewers, and +3 percent in the news demo. CBS improved 14 percent in total viewers and +5 percent in the news demo. PBS improved 20 percent in total viewers and +21 in A25-54. The FOX broadcast network, on the other hand, fell 19 percent in total viewers and also fell 23 percent in the news demo. In 2012, FOX had The X Factor as its lead-in for the debate. Monday night, Gotham was the lead in.

The Young Turks presidential debate coverage was hosted by Cenk Uygur, Jimmy Dore and Wes Clark Jr., and was streamed live on its YouTube channel, Facebook page and Twitter Timeline. TYT’s coverage attracted 638,298 total views from the three aforementioned platforms.