84 million plus and still rising: that’s the latest total for the size of the TV audience for the first US presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hiliary Clinton. According to the latest Nielsen ratings the total audience so far for the 13 free to air and US cable networks is heading past 84 million, making it the most watched debate ever, topping the 80 million for the 1980 debate between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter.

That though was 80 million on fewer networks and when the US population was much smaller: or around 35% share of then US population of just over 226 million. Monday night’s audience was equal to around 26% of the current US population of just on 320 million.

But the latest figures do not include streaming audiences on Facebook, Twitter and other services, which some US analysts say could boost the estimated  audience to close to 100 million. Facebook claimed 55 million people viewed what it described as “debate-related videos” (whatever that means. The figure which sounds high, but not when you consider that Facebook has around 1.7 million users a day).

The first presidential debate of 2012, between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, had 67.2 million viewers across a multitude of networks (but fewer than the 13 for this one). The latest figure is 25% above that level.

The Financial Times reported that the debate was broadcast ad free, but the media groups loaded ads before and at the finish and sold out. “Broadcasters booked 30-second spots for about $250,000 on average, according to people familiar with the deals — compared to the average $112,000 for a 30-second ad during primetime TV broadcast last year,” according to the FT’s website.

The networks included in Nielsen’s tally: ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, Azteca, Univision, Telemundo, PBS, CNN, Fox News, CNBC, Fox Business Network and MSNBC. But it doesn’t yet include figures for CSPAN. The audience on Fox News was twice the size on the Fox free to air channel!.

According to Nielsen’s Fast National ratings, the Big Four broadcast networks’ coverage pulled a total 49.1 million viewers. Final time zone adjustments will add more viewers. That’s nearly 25% jump from the same numbers in 2012 for the first Obama – Romney debate. Among the individual networks, NBC leads with 18.2 million of those viewers, followed by ABC (13.5 million), CBS (12.1 million) and Fox (5.3 million, which normally doesn’t carry political content). PBS drew 3 million viewers. Univision (2.5 million) and Telemundo (1.8 million).

On the big three cable networks alone, Fox News Channel (FNC), CNN and MSNBC, added a further 26.1 million viewers. All showed big rises from 2012. FNC led the cable networks with 11.4 million viewers, with CNN closely following with 9.8 million and MSNBC on 4.9 million. (Fox Business Network added 673,000 viewers, while CNBC pulled 520,00.)

What is interesting is that in what US TV analysts call the ‘news demo, ie, 25 to 54 viewers, CNN won with 4.4 million viewers in this demo, Fox second with 3.5 million and MSNBC third with 1.5 million. Fox’s audience was predominantly aged 55 and more, again confirming that it is the most watched cable network by older, white Americans who tend to be supporters of Donald Trump.

And in Australia? A total of 504,000 people watched across the country on Seven, 264,000, ABC, 180,000 (simulcast on the main channel and News 24) and SBS, 60,000. That’s a pretty solid set of numbers for a US Presidential debate.

Last night, Nine did well in the metros, winning the main channels while Seven won Total People. But in the regionals, Seven had the easiest of wins with daylight second and third … it was a remarkable difference to the metro result which was close.

Zumbo’s Just Desserts ended without much fuss – a bit like whisked egg whites which peaked too early and slowly collapsed. Still the final did better (1.183 million) than Australian Survivor (936,000) but not The Block (1.280 million).

In regional areas Seven News was tops with 559,000, Seven News/Today Tonight had 493,000 viewers, with Home and Away was 3rd with 477,000, 800 Words had 463,000, while 5th was Zumbo’s Just Desserts on 421,000.

In metro breakfast, Today with 312,000 had a big holiday win over Sunrise with 265,000.

Despite the ratings last night, one program stood out and that was the one off special Conviction on the ABC at 8.30pm. There should be more of these special docos to explain stories, murders, events of national or international interest etc. Conviction looked at the investigation murder and rape of Jill Meagher in Melbourne. It’s a reminder that for all the talk about podcasts and special print and online investigations, there’s nothing like a well researched and reported TV program to bring home the story to as many people as possible. Conviction had a solid 868,000 national viewers last night: 605,000 in the metros and 283,000 in the regionals. Some commentators reckon there was a missed opportunity here for a TV series – hmmm. This was the story about a real person, not fiction. Ms Meagher’s family has to be considered.

Network channel share:

  1. Seven (28.9%)
  2. Nine (27.2%)
  3. Ten (19.8%)
  4. ABC (17.5%)
  5. SBS (6.5%)

Network main channels:

  1. Nine (20.5%)
  2. Seven (19.7%)
  3. Ten (14.1%)
  4. ABC (11.8%)
  5. SBS ONE (4.8%)

Top 5 digital channels: 

  1. 7mate (4.4%)
  2. ABC 2 (3.6%)
  3. GO (3.5%)
  4. 7TWO (3.4%)
  5. ONE (3.1%)

Top 10 national programs

  1. Seven News  — 1.738 million
  2. Seven News/Today Tonight — 1.661 million
  3. Nine News — 1.292 million
  4. The Block (Nine) — 1.280 million
  5. Home and Away (Seven) — 1.251 million
  6. A Current Affair (Nine) — 1.248 million
  7. Zumbo’s Just Desserts (Seven) — 1.183 million
  8. 800 Words (Seven) — 1.158 million
  9. The Chase Australia 5.30pm (Seven) — 1.131million
  10. ABC News — 1.121 million

*No figures for regional Queensland

Top metro programs:

  1. Seven News — 1.179 million
  2. Seven News/Today Tonight — 1.167 million

Losers: Those who didn’t watch Conviction – high class TV – much better than Zumbo, Survivor or The Block.

Metro news and current affairs:

  1. Seven News — 1.179 million
  2. Seven News/Today Tonight — 1.167 million
  3. Nine News (6.30pm) — 999,000
  4. Nine News — 1982,000
  5. A Current Affair (Nine) —884,000
  6. ABC News — 800,000
  7. The Project 7pm (Ten) — 665,000
  8. 7.30 (ABC) — 650,000
  9. Ten Eyewitness News — 439,000
  10. The Project 6.30pm (Ten) — 409,000

Morning TV:

  1. Today (Nine) — 312,000
  2. Sunrise (Seven) – 265,000
  3. News Breakfast (ABC 1,  115,000 + 44,000 on News 24) — 159,000
  4. Today Extra (Nine) — 157,000
  5. The Morning Show (Seven) — 145,000
  6. Studio 10 (Ten) — 78,000


Top five pay TV programs:

  1. AFL: 360 (Fox Footy) – 101,000
  2. AFL: On The Couch (Fox Footy) — 77,000
  3. Australia’s Next Top Model (Fox8) — 69,000
  4. Charlie’s Chelsea Garden 2016 (LifeStyle) — 68,000
  5. The Simpsons (Fox8) – 65,000

*Data © OzTAM Pty Limited 2016. The data may not be reproduced, published or communicated (electronically or in hard copy) in whole or in part, without the prior written consent of OzTAM. (All shares on the basis of combined overnight 6pm to midnight all people.) and network reports.