Over 73 million people watched the first debate on TV

  • Written by Axios
  • Published in Politics
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Data: Nielsen; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

More than 73.1 million people watched the first presidential debate on television on Tuesday night, according to Nielsen ratings.

Why it matters: While that's a sizable audience for any American TV program, it's down more than 13% from the record number of TV viewers who tuned in for the first debate of the 2016 election. The chaotic nature of the debate and the overall uncertainty around this year's election may have pushed some viewers away.

  • The ratings drop could also reflect the fact that more people are streaming compared to 2016. About 15% fewer American households have Pay-TV now than did in 2016.
  • There's no way of measuring exactly how many people streamed the debate or watched clips of it on social media, but millions more Americans presumably tuned in online.

Nielsen ratings used to only measure traditional TV viewership. This year, out-of-home (OOH) viewing, viewing in places like bars and restaurants, and connected TV (CTV) viewership on platforms like Sling TV were also included.

  • Viewership from CTVs can comprise as much as 11% for televised political events, Nielsen says. But Nielsen still doesn't measure streaming on platforms like YouTube, Facebook or Twitter.

Details: As was true of this year's conventions, viewership on broadcast networks like ABC, NBC, FOX and CBS was down substantially this year compared to cable. ...

  • Fox News, for example, said the debate drew the highest number of viewers for a debate in its history. Fox News drew the overall highest number of viewers this year, followed by ABC, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, CBS and

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