Amidstall the vitriol, finger-pointing and cries for fact-checking, the firstpresidential debate between Republican candidate Donald Trump and Democratichopeful Hillary Clinton became the most-watched in U.S. history.
The combativedebate from Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. — where the candidatesaddressed race, the economy, national security and more — averagedjust over 84.0 million viewers from 9 p.m. to 10:45 p.m. ET on Sept. 26 across13 networks, according to live + same-day data from .
Whilesome pundits thought the first 2016 presidential debate might approach 100million viewers, the Clinton-Trump tussle did surpass the solefaceoff between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter on Oct. 28, 1980 — theprevious record holder — when average viewership was 80.6 million acrossABC (US),CBS (US) andNBC (US).
TheClinton-Trump tally included contributions from PBS (US) (3 million) but not , which is not rated.It also does not take into account those who streamedthe debate on other outlets, including Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc. and Google Inc.'s You Tube, as well as out-of-home viewingin restaurants and taverns.
Thegiant audience for the debate now stands as the second-most-watched program of2016 behind Super Bowl 50, which drew111.9 million viewers on CBS. That Feb. 7 telecast ranks as thethird-most-viewed show in U.S. TV history behind the 114.4 million for NBC'spresentation of Super Bowl XLIX and the 112.2 million for 's telecast of Super BowlXLVIII.
NBC,perhaps benefiting from a home court advantage of sorts with "NightlyNews" anchor Lester Holt moderating the debate, saw the most viewers onSept. 26, averaging more than 18 million. FOX News Channel (US) led the way on the cableside, averaging 11.4 million watchers.
TheSept. 26 Trump-Clinton showdown easily outpointed all three of the debatesbetween President Barack Obama and GOP candidate Mitt Romney, with the audiencedescending from 67.2 million for their Oct. 3, 2012, meet up to 65.6 millionand 59.2 million for the subsequent debates on Oct. 16 and 22 of that year.
Continuinginterest in the election has boosted audiences for cable news networksthroughout 2016.
Duringthe third quarter ended Sept. 25, Fox News ranked as the most-watched cablenetwork in prime time averaging 2.4 million total viewers and 1.4 million intotal-day, the most in the history of the network, according to Nielsen live +same-day data. Those averages represented gains of 25% and 29%,compared with the third-quarter of 2015. Live + same-day ratings countaudiences that watched live and up until early in the morning.
Fortheir parts, MSNBC (US)and CNN (US) alsorang up sizable advances in the third quarter. MSNBC registered a 96% gain to1.224 million total viewers in prime time, versus 1.216 watchers for CNN, whichwas up 49%.
Thevice presidential debate between Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican Mike Penceis set for Oct. 4, while the other two presidential contests are scheduled for Oct. 9and 19.
OnElection Night Nov. 8, networks will be looking to top the 66.8 million viewersrecorded on Nov. 6, 2012, the night Obama was re-elected to a second term overMitt Romney. On Nov. 4, 2008, almost 71.5 million watched Obama become thenation's first African-American president, defeating Sen. John McCain.