Nearly 48 Million Viewers, CNN Says

The early results are in, and CNN appeared to be the biggest winner from Thursday’s train wreck of a presidential debate. According to the news cabler’s report of Nielsen Fast National data, a combined 47.9 million total viewers watched the CNN Presidential Debate on TV across all networks, including its competitors. And in the key news demo of adults 25-54, an average of 12.6 million viewers watched.

That’s down from the first debate of 2020, which attracted nearly 73.1 million viewers, but there are several caveats attached. Thursday night’s debate was specifically run by CNN. Also, this was among the earliest presidential debates ever; the first 2020 debate was held at the end of September. And this is the first presidential debate since 1988 not handled by the Commission on Presidential Debates.

CNN also noted that there were more than 30 million “live starts” of the debate on YouTube and CNN digital platforms. According to CNN, it was also the biggest day ever for its new CNN on Max service, “nearly doubling the previous record.”

According to the network, the debate was the “most watched non-sports program of the year so far among both viewers 2+ and adults 25-54.”

CNN noted that the debates grabbed 11.4 million viewers specifically on CNN, CNN on Max, CNN en Español and HLN.

In linear, according to other sources utilizing Nielsen Media data, when adding all outlets, Fox News Media was first with 12.680 million, followed by NBCUniversal News Group (NBC News, MSNBC, Telemundo) with 9.934 million, then CNN/CNN en Español/HLN with 9.04 million viewers, followed by ABC News (8.696 million).

The 30 million views of the Presidential Debate on CNN’s digital properties and on YouTube makes it the biggest debate for it ever on CNN digital, the network said, and ties it with the network’s biggest live stream event ever. (That number is based on 2.3 million concurrent live views at 9:47 p.m. on,, CNNgo OTT apps and mobile apps for iOS and Android and CNN’s YouTube player).

CNN wasn’t the only outlet declaring firsts; NBC News Now reports that it also hit its largest audience ever, with viewership up in the triple digits vs. its 2024 average.

The debate with President Joe Biden and former President Donald J. Trump was moderated by CNN’s Jake Tapper and Dana Bash, and aired from 9 p.m. to 10:39 p.m. live from CNN’s studios in Atlanta. The debate was made available to Washington, D.C. TV news pool members, pool subscribers and CNN affiliates to be simulcast.

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