The final presidential debate of 2020 campaign attracted 21.4 million viewers to the three major broadcast networks Thursday night, a slight decrease from Donald Trump and Joe Biden’s first matchup on Sept. 29.
The numbers from Nielsen are preliminary and will be updated later on Friday, including the addition of cable-TV networks. Walt Disney Co.’s ABC led with 8.8 million viewers, followed by Comcast Corp.’s NBC and ViacomCBS Inc.’s CBS. Fox Corp.’s broadcast network aired its regular Thursday-night football game.
Thursday’s debate, held in Nashville, Tennessee, and moderated by NBC’s Kristen Welker, was a more subdued affair than the first one, where the candidates often interrupted each other. Welker won praise from Trump for keeping order on the stage.
Last month’s debate was still among the most-watched ever. A second debate, originally scheduled for Oct. 15, was canceled after Trump contracted the coronavirus and refused to appear in a virtual matchup.
The candidates entered Thursday’s event under different terms than last month. The nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates ruled that each candidate would have his microphone muted at the start of their rival’s initial responses to a topic. Going into the contest, Trump said the new rules were unfair.
The most-watched debate in recent history was the first matchup between Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016. It garnered 84 million viewers, according to Nielsen.