TV Ratings: Final Debate Draws Smaller Audience

Final Debate Joe Biden Donald Trump Stage
Getty Images

Ratings for the final presidential debate of 2020 were still big, but they came up short of both the first face-off between Donald Trump and Joe Biden and the final debate of the 2016 campaign.

Per Nielsen figures, just under 63 million people — 62.97 million, to be precise — watched the final debate Thursday across 15 outlets. That's down from 73.13 million for the first debate on Sept. 19, a drop of about 14 percent.

The vast majority of the audience (57.43 million viewers) watched the debate on broadcast networks ABC, CBS and NBC and the three biggest cable news channels — CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. That's down about 7 percent from the combined tally of 61.95 million for the first debate on Sept. 29. The Fox broadcast network didn't air Thursday's debate due to its NFL commitments.

Spanish-language broadcasters Univision (1.43 million) and Telemundo (1.27 million) and cable's Fox Business Network (733,000) bring Thursday's total to 60.85 million. Final viewer figure, including PBS and a few other outlets, will be available later in the afternoon. PBS, CNNe, Newmax, Newsy, Vice and WGN America accounted for the remaining 2 million or so viewers.

Thursday's debate fell short of both the first Trump-Biden debate, which drew a total of 73.13 million viewers across 18 different outlets, and the final debate of the 2016 campaign (71.5 million). The Sept. 29 debate was the second most watched presidential debate ever, behind only 2016's first debate.

The scheduled second debate between the two candidates was canceled, with Biden and Trump opting for individual town halls on ABC and NBC, respectively. Those two broadcasts combined for about 28.6 million viewers, far less than what a debate would have drawn across multiple networks.

As was the case for the first debate, Fox News drew the biggest audience for any individual network with 15.41 million viewers. ABC finished second with 11.23 million, followed by NBC — the only network to increase its audience from the first debate — with 10.63 million. NBC News correspondent Kristen Welker moderated the debate. CNN drew 7.51 million viewers, MSNBC 6.93 million and CBS 5.72 million.

Thursday Night Football, meanwhile, drew 10.61 million viewers on Fox and the NFL Network, a two-year low for Fox's Thursday NFL showcase (not much of a surprise, given 60 million-plus people were otherwise occupied).

Bookmark for more ratings news and numbers.

Oct. 23, 1:50 p.m. Updated throughout with final ratings numbers.