The first presidential debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden averaged 68.1 million viewers across eight broadcast and cable networks, with Fox News leading the way by attracting 17.8 million Americans.
ABC finished a distant second, but led the broadcast networks with an average audience of 12.6 million viewers. NBC (9.6 million) came in third while CNN (8.3 million) placed fourth and MSNBC rounded out the top five with an average of 7.2 million viewers.
CBS coverage drew an average of 6.4 million viewers, Fox broadcast averaged 5.4 million and Fox Business Network averaged 758,000. The eight networks combined for 65.4 million viewers during the debate, which aired from 9:03-10:39 p.m. ET.
The debate, which was moderated by “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace, was the highest-rated in cable news history and Fox News averaged a whopping 5.1 million viewers among the key demographic of adults age 25-54.
In a memo to staffers Wednesday, Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott and President Jay Wallace praised Wallace and his colleagues.
“We’d like to take a moment to thank and congratulate Chris Wallace for moderating last night’s extraordinary debate. We are extremely proud of his professionalism, skill and fortitude in a unique situation while doing everything possible to hold both candidates accountable. No moderator could have managed a debate of that magnitude better than Chris,” Scott and Wallace wrote.
“Equally impressive was the flawless execution of our debate coverage across all FOX News Media platforms along with our network pool responsibilities. Bret [Baier], Martha [MacCallum], Tucker [Carlson], Sean [Hannity], Laura [Ingraham] and Shannon [Bream] led our pre and post-debate programs with the most informative, insightful and compelling coverage on television,” Scott and Wallace continued. “Our talented field operations, production and security teams made all of this possible. There are too many individuals to single out and the list is long of the staff who did outstanding work in challenging circumstances.”
The first presidential debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton on Sept. 26, 2016 was the most-watched debate ever, averaging 77 million total viewers between Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, FBN, CNBC, ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX (CNBC did not air Tuesday night’s debate).
Fox News Channel’s massive audience for the Trump-Biden debate nearly surpassed NBC’s record for the most debate viewers on a single network. The Peacock Network drew an average of 18.2 million viewers during the first Trump-Clinton clash four years ago.
“Additionally, there were 9.7 million total video streams of the debate across FOX News Digital properties, as well as on Facebook and YouTube, up an astounding 300 percent compared to 2016,” Scott and Wallace wrote. “This exceptional performance on both linear and digital is a testament to everyone’s incredible talent and hard work. Thank you to all involved for continuing to make FOX News Media the most powerful news organization in the country.”
All ratings data courtesy of Nielsen Media Research.