TV Ratings: Veep Debate Sinks From Past Highs, Pulls Under 40 Million Viewers

Tim Kaine and Mike Pence draw nowhere near the audience of Joe Biden and Sarah Palin — or even Biden and Paul Ryan four years ago.
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Tim Kaine

The heated showdown between vice presidential hopefuls Tim Kaine and Mike Pence naturally topped Tuesday ratings. The one and only veep debate was broadcast on a slew of networks, and while updated numbers have it pulling a substantial haul, it did not come close to any of the highs of recent memory.

With nine networks now reporting averages during the 90-plus-minute debate, the gross performance of Tuesday night's event is only 37 million viewers. 

NBC led all of the networks airing the debate with 7.03 million viewers, followed by CBS (6.46 million), ABC (6.15 million), Fox News Channel (6.08 million), CNN (4.17 million viewers) and MSNBC (3.13 million). Big Fox rounded out the significant performers with 2.2 million viewers, and PBS earned 1.4 million, while Fox Business Network drew 392,000.

The last vice presidential debate, between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan in 2012, ranked as the third-most-watched at the time. It averaged 51.4 million viewers — though that was dwarfed by the 2008 veep match-up. Sarah Palin and Joe Biden raked in 70 million viewers, making it the No. 1 veep debate of all time. In fact, it is only topped by last week's presidential faceoff and the 1980 Ronald Reagan-Jimmy Carter showdown among all debates ever. 

An early look at the Big Four's overnight ratings had the veep debate on track for a similar, if smaller, performance to 2012. Across NBC, ABC and CBS, the debate averaged a 13.2 rating among households. That preliminary stat is roughly half of the comparable broadcast numbers that the first Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump debate brought in a week ago. (Last week's record-setting presidential debate, an event that grossed more than 84 million viewers across all networks, had the central trio airing the debate pulled a total 26.9 overnight rating.)