NEW YORK – The contentious first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump lived up to its big ratings expectations with an estimated average TV viewership that will top the previous record of 80.6 million.
The total average audience for Monday’s matchup for the ad-supported broadcast and cable networks as well as PBS came in around 84 million, according to Nielsen numbers.
Monday’s event tops the previous record for a presidential debate set when Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan clashed on Oct. 28, 1980. It was their only meeting of that year’s presidential campaign, which occurred in an era when U.S. households had only a handful of channels to choose from.
The total across broadcast and cable networks measured by Nielsen for the Clinton-Trump debate does not include viewers who watched it through various video streams available online. Streaming likely cut into the TV audience number, as younger viewers have turned to digital devices to watch programs and live events since the 2012 presidential debates, the highest of which averaged 67.2 million viewers.
NBC had the largest debate audience with 18.15 million viewers. “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt was the moderator of the event.
ABC was second with 13.5 million viewers, followed by CBS with 12.08 million. Fox News Channel was the most-watched cable network with 11.36 million, followed by CNN’s 9.8 million viewers.
The debate held at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., was expected to be a major TV attraction. Trump’s appearances in the Republican primary debates drew large audiences throughout his successful campaign for the nomination.
Monday’s meeting was the first time the real estate mogul and former reality TV star was in a one-on-one contest with another candidate.
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