Update 5:45pm PT on 9/30: The preliminary viewing numbers apparently were a fraction of the true numbers for the first 2020 Presidential Debate. Nielsen reported that "an estimated 73.1 million people" watched the debate, but Nielsen only counts Americans who watched the debate on TV, not streaming on a device. That number dwarfs every other debate the past 20 years except for 2016's first match-up between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, which brought in 84 million viewers.
TV Guide's original story with preliminary viewership is below.
The preliminary ratings are in for the first presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday night, and while plenty of people tuned in for what was a thoroughly confounding evening, it hasn't broken any records as of yet.
Early Nielsen numbers indicate that the debate drew 29 million viewers across the major broadcast networks: ABC brought in the largest broadcast crowd with 11 million people; NBC drew 8 million; CBS brought in 5.3 million; and Fox followed with 4.5 million. These are only the early numbers, which means we have yet to hear from cable news networks like CNN and MSNBC. Still, it's a larger drop from the numbers the first debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton in September 2016 had brought in at this point; that event was watched by over 45 million viewers on just the broadcast networks.
Ahead of the evening, the New York Times reported that if the first Trump-Biden debate was to make history, 84 million viewers across broadcast and cable networks was the number to beat, with the first debate between between Trump and Clinton holding the record for the largest total audience for a presidential debate. Previously, the record was held by the only 1980 debate between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, which was watched by 80.6 million people.
The debate comes only a short while after the DNC continually surpassed the RNC in TV ratings over the summer. Trump's RNC speech, wherein he accepted the Republican nomination for president, brought in about 21.6 million viewers, which was less than the 24.6 million viewers Biden's own DNC acceptance speech garnered. Also, Biden's running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, drew 5.7 million more viewers for her first address as the Democratic vice presidential nominee than the RNC speech made by Vice President Mike Pence.
The next debate, this time between vice presidential candidates Kamala Harris and Mike Pence, will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 7. Trump and Biden are expected to debate two more times before the Nov. 3 election.