The second presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump drew another huge audience Sunday night — just not record-breakingly huge as was the case with their first face-off.

About 66.5 million people watched the debate on ABC, CBS, FOX, PBS, Univision, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, Fox Business and CNBC. NBC didn’t air the debate since it had a contractual obligation to the NFL for “Sunday Night Football.”

Coincidentally, the 18 million fewer viewers for Sunday’s town hall was just about the number of people who watched the first debate on NBC — and of those who opted to watch the game instead. NBC says its “Sunday Night Football” telecast drew 16.6 million viewers.

Per usual, the total debate audience dwarfed that of the game. Aside from the record-setting first debate between Trump and Clinton, Sunday’s telecast was the second most-watched debate since 1996.

CBS, which had afternoon NFL games leading into primetime in most of the country and an extended “60 Minutes” leading into the debate, had the biggest debate audience with 16.43 million viewers. ABC (11.51 million) narrowly beat cable leader CNN (11.23 million) for second overall. Fox News was fourth with 9.86 million viewers, followed by FOX broadcast, 5.6 million; MSNBC, 5.55 million; PBS, 2.82 million; Univision, 2.4 million; Fox Business, 564,000; and CNBC, 391,000.

Streaming figures are not included in the total.

The 21 percent decline in audience between the first two debates is not atypical: In 1996, 2000 and 2004, the second debate fell by a similar percentage. The second debate between Barack Obama and John McCain in 2008 was the most-watched of their three contests, while the second 2012 debate between Obama and Mitt Romney fell only slightly from the first.

Here are the debate audiences for the past five presidential elections.

Year First debate Second debate Third debate VP debate
1996 46.1 million 36.3 million ** 26.6 million
2000 46.6 million 37.5 million 37.7 million 28.5 million
2004 62.4 million 46.7 million 51.1 million 43.5 million
2008 52.4 million 63.2 million 56.5 million 69.9 million
2012 67.2 million 65.6 million 59.2 million 51.4 million
2016 84.4 million 66.5 million Oct. 19 35.6 million

**Only two debates were held in 1996.

Source: The Nielsen Company.

Posted by:Rick Porter

Rick Porter has been covering TV since the days when networks sent screeners on VHS, one of which was a teaser for the first season of "American Idol." He's left-handed, makes a very solid grilled cheese and has been editor of TV by the Numbers since October 2015. He lives in Austin.

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