The first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump broke viewership records, topping the previous mark set in 1980.
The commercial channels carrying the debate (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, Univision, Telemundo, CNBC and Fox Business) averaged 81.4 million viewers, just edging the October 1980 debate between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan (80.6 million). PBS averaged an additional 3 million, bringing the total to 84.4 million.
Viewing figures from Nielsen don’t include C-SPAN or streaming, which will bump up the audience even more.
Monday’s debate is well ahead of all three face-offs between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in 2012. The most-watched of those three contests drew 67.2 million people.
In terms of the percentage of the population watching, the 1980 debate still has the edge. The United States had a population of about 227 million, meaning about 35.5 percent of the country was watching then. Today, it’s estimated that 323 million people live in the country, just over 26 percent of whom were watching Monday.
In household ratings — the number of homes with TVs that were tuned into the debate — the all-time champ is still the third of four debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960. It scored a 61 rating. The Reagan-Carter debate in 1980 drew a 59.8; Monday’s household figures aren’t in yet.
NBC (18.16 million viewers) had the biggest audience of any single network for the debate, beating out broadcast counterparts ABC (13.52 million), CBS (12.08 million) and FOX. (5.3 million. Fox News (11.36 million) led CNN (9.8 million) and MSNBC (4.9 million) among cable channels. Univision’s 2.5 million viewers beat out Telemundo’s 1.8 million among Spanish-language broadcasters. FBN (673,000) and CNBC (520,000) round out the commercial channels.
NBC also led in the key news demographic of adults 25-54 with a 6.9 rating, followed by ABC and CBS (tied at 4.0), CNN (3.7), Fox News (2.9) and MSNBC (1.3).