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Second Presidential Debate Down Nearly 20 Percent in Viewers From First

by Paige Albiniak  |  10.10.2016

Even though Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton had some scandalous issues on their debate agenda Sunday night, ratings for the event fell short of their first match-up on Sept. 26.

The combined total ratings for the 10 networks that broadcast the event — with NBC opting instead to stick with Sunday Night Football — was 68.8 million viewers, off about 18 percent from the first showdown. A record 84 million viewers tuned in for the first debate, setting an all-time record, beating the previous record set by Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter in 1980. The most people who have ever watched a second presidential debate is 69.9 million viewers, a record set in 1992 with the three-way debate between George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot.

Just like it is in regular primetime, CBS was the most-watched network with 16.5 million viewers. ABC, whose Martha Raddatz shared moderating duties with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, averaged 11.5 million viewers, just beating CNN. PBS averaged 2.8 million viewers, while Telemundo chipped in 2.4 million viewers. 

CNN led all cable networks with 11.23 million viewers, scoring its biggest audience for a presidential debate in 36 years. Fox News came in second with 9.96 million viewers. And MSNBC, while third, celebrated its largest-ever audience for a presidential debate with 5.55 million viewers tuning in. Fox Business News, CNBC and Azteca combined for just shy of one million viewers.

Trump and Clinton spent the first 20 minutes or so of the debate discussing a 2005 video that featured Trump speaking lewdly about women with Billy Bush, who at the time was anchor of Access Hollywood and moved to NBC’s Today in August. Bush apologized for the video Friday night after the Washington Post broke the story, but by Sunday night, Today Executive Producer Noah Oppenheim had informed the staff that Bush was suspended indefinitely. 

On Monday, CNN reported that several sources do not expect Bush to return to the program.

Over on NBC, the Sunday Night Football game between the New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers was down 9 percent from the prior week to a 10.2 overnight household rating, according to Nielsen Media Research. That marked a season low for the franchise.

Perhaps more tellingly, that marked a 22 percent drop from the same week in 2015 and a 20 percent decline from 2014. In fact, it was Sunday Night Football’s worst showing in three years when the Packers and the Minnesota Vikings faced heavy competition from the World Series.

READ MORE: The Hollywood Reporter, Deadline, Forbes, CNN

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