The television audience for the first US presidential debate between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump looks set to approach the 80-million viewer record for such events set in 1980, early Nielsen data cited by U.S. media suggested on Tuesday.
But the initial data from the four main broadcast networks suggested that Monday evening’s 90-minute debate, which was carried on multiple U.S. broadcast and cable networks, would not surpass 100 million viewers, as some analysts had predicted ahead of the face-off.
The Hollywood Reporter said preliminary Nielsen data showed that some 45.8 million Americans watched the debate on ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC. That was a 23% increase on the initial audience from the same networks for the first 2012 match-up between President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney that translated to a total overall audience of 67.2 million viewers.
“This puts the debate on track to smash that 2012 total and very likely approach an all-time high,” The Hollywood Reporter said.
The most watched US presidential debate was between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter in 1980 and attracted a TV audience of 80.6 million viewers.
Media website TVLine.com said the preliminary data suggested the audience for Trump-Clinton on Monday could be about 81 million TV viewers. But it said the numbers would not be as big as the annual football Super Bowl, which attracts more than 100 million viewers and is the biggest TV event in the United States.
Further Nielsen data, including figures from cable television, are expected later on Tuesday.
The initial figures did not include millions who watched the debate in bars, restaurants and online through Twitter, Facebook and other social media.
Monday’s debate was the first of three between the presidential candidates before the November 8 election.