Debate 2 Scores 66.5M Viewers, Falls Short Of Record And Well Behind Debate 1


UPDATED with final stats: Presidential Debate 2 scored about 66.5 million viewers last night, failing to eclipse the historic 84M who’d tuned in for the first debate last month.

Last night’s slugfest, in which Donald Trump apologized for his sexual predator comments made in 2005 to NBC News’ Billy Bush, but also dismissed his remarks as “locker room talk,” also fell short of the most watched Debate 2 in election cycle history.

The most watched Debate 2 bagged 69M viewers. That October 15, 1992 debate had pit Billy Bush’s uncle George H.W. Bush, Donald Trump’s Sunday night debate pinata Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot. That debate aired on just four networks: ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN (PBS and C-Span stats were not included).

Last night’s debate tally includes viewing on CBS, ABC, Fox, CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC and PBS. NBC did not broadcast the debate, instead airing NFL football per its contract.

With NBC out of the game, CBS dominated debate viewing last night, in total viewers and in the news demo, with 11.3M viewers and 6.4M, respectively. CBS had a very good night, though neither of the debates’ two moderators hailed from that news division. The debate was anchored by CNN’s Anderson Cooper and ABC’s Martha Raddatz, whose two networks slugged it out for second place, behind CBS.

CNN scored its best presidential debate ratings in its history in both metrics. That includes a cable-dominating 11.227M viewers – a 13% jump compared to Debate 1. CNN’s 4.824M viewers aged 25-54 outperformed Fox News and MSNBC combined.  The cable news network gave ABC a run for its money in total viewers (11.512M) and bested ABC in the news demo (4.641M).

Fox broadcast network logged 5.6M viewers and 2.8M news demo viewers. PBS pulled in 2.82M viewers and did not provide news-demo stats.

Previous: Last night’s second presidential debate was not expected to reach the historic ratings heights of the first, which clocked the largest debate audience in TV history: 84 million viewers.

Early numbers from last night would seem to support that theory, with a household 37.2/52 – a nearly 20% drop from the first debate’s overnight stats.

But these new numbers represent only the major broadcast networks’ coverage of the debate. And NBC – Debate 1’s  top ratings-getter – did not participate in the debate broadcast-palooza, broadcasting its NFL Sunday Night Football instead. Debate ratings also will be impacted by hurricane coverage pre-emptions in some larger markets in the South including Jacksonville, Orlando, Norfolk and Raleigh-Durham.

With NBC playing a different game last night, CBS clocked the largest debate crowd among broadcasters, 10.4/15. ABC followed with 7.3/10, and Fox logged a 3.6/5.

Yet to be heard from: cable news networks. Their numbers come later today, as do more accurate broadcast stats.

Big wild card here is Friday’s release of a taped 2005 conversation between GOP candidate Donald Trump and NBC News’ Billy Bush, in which the candidate bragged that, because he’s famous, he can kiss and grope women with impunity. Some pundits speculated the prospect of Trump and Clinton tackling that tape would drive far more viewers to this second debate than is typically expected.

To date, the most-watched second presidential debate logged 69.9 million viewers, on October 15, 1992.


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