How ratings for first presidential debate of 2024 compare with past

The much-anticipated debate on Thursday night between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump drew 47.9 million viewers on television, CNN reported on Friday, citing preliminary ratings figures from Nielsen.

The 90-minute debate, hosted by CNN and simulcast across 22 networks, featured just the two presumptive party nominees and was defined by rambling answers by the current president and lies and misstatements by his predecessor.

The network telecast the event from its studios in Atlanta, providing a live feed to others free of charge but with conditions over its presentation and branding, CNN stated. 

How many people watched the first presidential debate of 2024?

CNN drew 9.04 million television viewers to its flagship channel, CNN Espanol and HLN, the network said on Friday. Fox News drew 8.8 million viewers, ABC News had 8.7 million and MSNBC drew 4.9 million viewers, according to the network.

The first presidential debate of 2024 generated more than 30 million views on CNN’s digital properties and on YouTube. “Across CNN’s digital platforms, the debate was CNN’s biggest debate ever and tied with our biggest live stream event ever with 2.3 million concurrent live views at 9:47 p.m,” CNN stated.

How do ratings compare to past debate viewership?

The nearly 48 million who watched Thursday night’s debate on TV marks a 35% decline from 2020, when more than 73 million people watched the first debate between Biden and Trump across all TV networks. In 2016, a record 84 million people watched the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Trump. 

The previous most-watched program in CNN’s history came in 2015, when a Republican debate featuring Trump and GOP competitors averaged 23.1 million viewers, the network relayed.

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