TV Ratings: Debate No. 2 Falls 18 Percent, Pulls 69 Million Viewers

Donald Trump - Hillary Clinton - Second Presidential Debate 3 - H - 2016
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Americans again tuned into a presidential debate, anticipating fireworks. And while updated numbers for Sunday's rematch between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are quite high — they don't come close to duplicating the first meeting two weeks ago.

With 10 networks now reporting adjusted ratings for the night, the grand total of linear telecasts is 68.8 million viewers. That's off roughly 18 percent from the record-breaking haul of the first showdown. That gross excludes NBC News. The typical leader in recent political coverage did not carry the live event in favor of Sunday Night Football. All told, the gross sum falls just shy of the previous record (nearly 70 million viewers) and just beats out the No. 2 debate from the last cycle. 

As anticipated, most of cable news saw a bump from NBC News sitting this one out. MSNBC, in fact, posted its largest-ever audience for a presidential debate with 5.55 million viewers. But CNN topped cable news with its own jump. It averaged 11.23 million viewers after heavily promoting the appearance of its own talent in co-moderator Anderson Cooper. As for Fox News Channel, it saw a slight dip from the first debate to rank No. 2 among cable news networks for the night. FNC averaged 9.96 million viewers.

The news demographic of adults 25-54 remains sort of irrelevant here, considering the absence of advertising during debate coverage, but CNN did lead with 4.8 million in the targeted demo.

But broadcast led over all. CBS News got a healthy boost to 16.5 million viewers, while ABC edged past CNN with 11.5 million viewers. PBS accounted for 2.8 million viewers, while Telemundo averaged 2.4 million viewers. (Fox Business News led CNBC and Azteca, though the three combined barely account for 1 million viewers.) The final number puts it just ahead of debate No. 2 in 2012 but shy of any record.

The first debate set a very high bar. A record 84 million viewers tuned in, besting the previous record set in 1980 when Ronald Regan faced Jimmy Carter. The performance of this debate, however, is much more on par with 2012 performances — of both the first and second debates.

Sunday's debate came the wake of a leaked audio scandal, in which Donald Trump was heard talking about groping women in a 2005 exchange with Billy Bush, that dominated news coverage over the weekend. For that reason, many assumed interest in debate might be just as high as two weeks ago — though the NFL presented a new obstacle for the telecast.

Second debates have been all over the place, ratings-wise, though recent showings have been exceptionally tight. The comparable debate in the 2012 cycle earned 65.6 million viewers, down from 67 million during the first. And, in 2008, the second debate actually performed better — rising to 63.2 million viewers from 52.4 million. (The all-time most-watched second debate was in 1992, when George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot faced one another to the tune of 69.9 million viewers.)

Earlier, a combined 37.2 overnight rating among the households had initial numbers for the six main networks carrying the debate are down roughly 20 percent.

CBS benefited the most among the broadcast networks, with its 10.4 rating among households during the debate, edging past the dipping coverage of Sunday Night Football. The game, a marquee lineup between the New York Football Giants and the Green Bay Packers, only fetched a 10.2 rating