More than a million Australians watched the US presidential debate on free-to-air TV yesterday.

The first debate on September 27 had attracted around 504,000 viewers combined, with 264,000 on Seven, 180,000 on the ABC(simulcast on the main channel and News 24) and 60,000 on SBS. Nine declined to air the first presidential debate.

But Oztam data shows that for yesterday’s debate Seven’s audience rose to 295,000, Nine’s audience was a solid 227,000, the ABC’s main channel had 225,000 viewers, News 24 had 220,000 and SBS had 42,000. That’s a total of 1.09 million. It will probably be larger than the free-to-air audience who will watch tonight’s World Cup soccer qualifying game between Australia and Japan from Melbourne on Nine’s Go digital channel.

Nine’s absence from screening the first debate was a bad look, and yesterday’s broadcast was more a case of an embarrassing joining of the pack at Seven, the ABC and SBS, where news bosses could see there would be a high level of interest.

The surge in Australian support is in stark contrast to the audience in the US, which did not move, discounting for the fact that NBC didn’t screen the second debate (it did the first because the moderator was an NBC News person). NBC chose to go with the NFL Sunday night game, which averaged 14.87 million people in the preliminary figures, down 9% from the week before and up to 20% lower than earlier in the season. A total of nearly 69 million people watched the second debate on 10 channels — CBS was the most watched free-to-air channel, CNN (and not Fox) the most watched cable channel — their audiences rose from the first debate (see the TV ratings chat). — Glenn Dyer