Ratings from the first presidential debate of 2016 surpassed the lone debate in 1980 between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, which amassed 80.6 million viewers, to become the most-watched debate in the sixty-year history of televised presidential debates.
Even though final ratings have not yet been posted, it is estimated that the debate averaged 81.4 million viewers across 11 different channels, with NBC posting drawing the most, due in part to “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt’s position as moderator. This number does not include PBS, which averaged 3 million additional viewers, or C-SPAN, which is not rated.
While the debate did not have commercials, the expected large audience inflated ad prices for pre- and post-debate coverage, with one media buying agency saying the price for a 30-second spot ranged from $170,000-$250,000.
An added wrinkle to the rating is the increased dovetailing of politics and the web. While this is obviously nothing new, it has hit a fever pitch this election cycle. More than just trending topics, Facebook and Twitter were used during the Democratic and Republican debates to generate questions, a practice that will continue during the presidential debates.
YouTube users have uploaded over 200,000 videos related to the 2016 election per-day since the GOP and Democratic conventions in July and users have watched more than 110 million hours of related content.
More important to any of these contributions, however, is the presence of live streams of the debate. Facebook Live, Twitter, Yahoo!, YouTube, Buzzfeed and several other online outlets. While the embrace of the internet by the political world has been a mixed bag so far, but the ability to have access to the debates anywhere – and thus have no excuse not to watch it – is one major boon of the accord.
These streams do not count towards viewership ratings, so while the television ratings for the debate just scraped by the previous record, the actual number of viewers is sure to receive a bump as well.