First presidential debate draws 67.2 million viewers

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NielsenAn estimated 67.2 million people watched Democratic incumbent President Barack Obama debate Republican challenger Gov. Mitt Romney in the first presidential debate on Wednesday, October 3.


The debate was carried live from the University of Denver in Colorado across 11 networks and was moderated by Jim Lehrer, host of NewsHour on PBS.

While coverage varied by network, 11 networks aired live coverage from approximately 9:00 PM to 10:30 PM while Telemundo aired coverage on tape delay. The chart below highlights the sum of the average audience for these networks.

Viewership to last night’s debate was up 28 percent compared to the first presidential debate in 2008 between then Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain.

2012 Presidential Debates
Sum of Networks Live + Same Day
October 3, 2012
Rating Number of Viewers
All Households
40.4
46,242,000
Persons 2+
23.1
67,187,000
Persons 18-34
17.8
12,079,000
Persons 35-54
24.7
19,929,000
Persons 55+
39.6
30,811,000
2008 Presidential Debates
September 26, 2008
Rating Number of Viewers
Persons 2+
18.1
52,418,000

2012 Networks Included:
Debate 1 – ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, TEL, UNI, PBS, CNN, FOXNC, MSNBC, CurrentTV and CNBC

2008 Networks Included:
Debate 1 – ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, Telefutura, Telemundo, BBC-America, CNBC, CNN, FOX News, MSNBC

RBR-TVBR observation: There were certainly many more viewers in total watching the debate than in 2008 because of increased online viewing during and after.


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Carl has been with RBR-TVBR since 1997 and is currently Managing Director/Senior Editor. Residing in Northern Virginia, he covers the business of broadcasting, advertising, programming, new media and engineering. He’s also done a great deal of interviews for the company and handles our ever-growing stable of bylined columnists.