Biden-Trump First 2024 Debate TV Ratings Fall Hard Compared to 2020 5

The first debate face-off (of the 2024 election cycle, at least) between President Joe Biden and Republican challenger Donald Trump drew a big audience — but not nearly as big as their 2020 debates.

The 99-minute debate, produced by CNN but aired on a host of other networks, averaged 47.9 million viewers, according to fast national ratings from Nielsen. That’s down about 34 percent from the candidates’ first debate in 2020, which drew 73.13 million viewers.

The debate, which most commentators said went poorly for Biden (with a few caveats), is the earliest general-election forum since televised debates debuted in 1960, taking place even before the two major party conventions. It was also the first general-election debate since 1988 that wasn’t organized by the Commission on Presidential Debates.

CNN and sister networks HLN and CNNe drew a combined 9.04 million TV viewers (8.74 million on the CNN), while Fox News (8.8 million) and ABC (8.7 million) also had big audiences. MSNBC had 3.97 million debate viewers; figures for other networks weren’t immediately available but will be added as they come in.

CNN also says an additional 2.36 million viewers watched on its digital platforms, including 864,000 on Max (including 21 minutes of post-debate coverage on the latter). Wednesday was the biggest day ever for CNN on Max.

Prior to Wednesday, the first general-election debates of an election cycle averaged about 63.8 million viewers each (excluding 1980, for which figures aren’t available). Only two others, in 1996 (46.1 million viewers) and 2000 (46.6 million), have come in under 50 million viewers.

This story will be updated when final ratings become available later in the day.

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