Biden-Trump Debate Draws Fewer Viewers Than 2020 Contest

(Bloomberg) -- Thursday night’s debate between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump attracted a television audience of 51.3 million viewers, Nielsen reported.

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Based on the tally, the debate, which is being seen widely as a significant loss for Biden, drew fewer viewers than their matchup four years ago.

In 2020, 73.1 million people tuned in to watch the two candidates face off for the first time. But traditional TV has lost subscribers since then, and today people can watch live television in numerous other ways.

The program was hosted and televised by CNN, part of Warner Bros. Discovery Inc., and monitored by Nielsen across 16 networks. In the past, presidential debates have been organized by a nonprofit commission.

CNN attracted 8.7 million viewers on its flagship channel. When the network’s other outlets are included, the total rises to 11.4 million. Fox News said its network total was highest at 8.82 million, and that viewing across its platforms amounted to almost 13 million.

The most-watched debate ever was the first between Trump and Hillary Clinton in September 2016. That event drew an audience of 84 million viewers.

Over the course of the debate, Biden misspoke several times. His remarks were punctuated by coughing and meandering. He stared into the distance as Trump delivered attacks, and froze at the end of one rambling answer.

CNN sought to head off the possibility of bickering or having the candidates talk over each other by forcing each side to agree to a series of rules.

It was the first presidential debate without a live audience, one of the conditions both candidates agreed to before taking the stage in Atlanta. Additionally, microphones remained muted unless a candidate was directed to speak. The strict rules led to less outbursts and crosstalk that characterized the Biden-Trump debates four years ago.

(Updated with Nielsen total starting in first paragraph.)

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