The First Presidential Debate of 2016 Sets a Ratings Record

84 million is now the number to beat.

While it didn’t hit the 100 million viewer mark that some thought could be within its reach, Monday night’s first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump reached 84 million viewers across 13 networks, according to Nielsen. That figure topped the lone presidential debate between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan in 1980, which averaged 80.6 million viewers.

The network that came out on top was moderator Lester Holt‘s own, NBC, with 18.156 million viewers. Among the other broadcast networks, ABC had 13.521 million viewers, CBS 12.082 million and Fox 5.573 million.

We reported earlier on the combined 26 million average viewers from CNN, FNC and MSNBC. Adding to that cable total is Fox Business Network with 672,610 viewers and CNBC with 520,492 viewers.

Among Spanish-language channels, Univision reached 2.5 million viewers and Telemundo 1.773 million.

Public television’s contribution, via PBS, was 2.96 million viewers.

This debate setting a record was important, but so too was the fact that viewers stayed with the debate for its entirety, avoiding a half-hour mark drop-off.

But as social and digital plays an increasing role in alternate watching methods, television numbers, in 2016 more than ever, the television numbers are, while still record-breaking, not a complete picture. Streaming services added millions of viewers, including 1.8 million views for PBS and 1.5 million for CBSN, and a YouTube highpoint of 2.5 million simultaneous views.

The fact that C-SPAN and Fusion aren’t rated provides more mystery as to just what the real total is, as does, as Brian Stelter points out, communal viewing in bars and at watch parties across the country.

Publish date: September 28, 2016 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT