Tonight’s debate is going to be huge. Huge. I mean, possibly record-breaking concerning the number of people tuning in to watch Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump engage in their much-anticipated verbal fisticuffs on the debate stage. What are the numbers? Well, we’re entering Super Bowl territory, with 100 million projected to watch the bloodsports. The most watched debate was Ronald Reagan’s bout with President Jimmy Carter in 1980 that captured 81 million viewers. CNN’s Brian Stelter had more:
Viewership of 1st presidential debates:— Fox News Research (@FoxNewsResearch) September 25, 2016
2012: 67.2 million
2008: 52.4 million
2004: 62.4 million
2000: 46.6 million
1996: 46.1 million
Television executives and campaign aides privately think that the total viewer number released by Nielsen will land somewhere between 80 and 100 million viewers.
Back then, debates were only carried by the three major broadcasters — ABC, NBC, and CBS.
This year the debates will be on more than a dozen TV channels. The face-offs will also be live streamed all across the web in ways that weren't technically feasible just four years ago. Facebook and Twitter will carry the debates live right within their social networks.
Traditional television remains dominant, however. During this election season's primary debates, more than 95% of the overall viewership happened via TV, with the remainder via streaming.
Nielsen's figures count viewers who watch at home with TV sets. Offices, bars, hotels and other out-of-home locations are not fully measured.
That's why the Super Bowl is always under-counted. This year Nielsen said 112 million Americans watched the big game, but the total audience was undoubtedly larger.
Stelter attributed the campaign season’s rather nasty tone to the reason why viewership could spike to 100 million, though he remains skeptical that it will actually get that high. Nevertheless, he did say that this debate reaching 100 million people was not out of the question. Regardless, some serious numbers will probably be posted after tonight.