Viewership Insights for the First Presidential Debate

Donald Trump and Joe Biden during the first Presidential Debate on Sept. 29, 2020
(Image credit: Screengrab/ABC News)

The first presidential debate of the 2020 election is officially in the books and per Vizio's Inscape, the TV data company with insights from a panel of more than 16 million smart TVs, in general, nearly 60% of TVs tuned into the debate. 

Viewership across networks was fairly stable over the course of the first hour, but started to decline around 10:30 p.m. ET as it came to a close, before rising again as people tuned into post-debate analysis.

Related: Debate Commission Vows to Change Format

Minute-by-minute tune-in for stations airing the Sept. 29, 2020 presidential debate

Looking specifically at CNN, viewership was fairly stable for most of the evening. Tune-in climbed slightly over the course of the first hour before leveling off during the second half. Although viewership dropped for a few minutes after the debate concluded, it spiked right around 11p.m. ET as people turned to CNN’s post-debate analysis — and tune-in at that point was higher than it had been during the debate. 

Minute-by-minute viewing for CNN during the Sept. 29, 2020 presidential debate

Even more notable is that although tune-in spiked for other networks’ post-debate commentary after 11 p.m., only CNN and MSNBC saw higher viewership post-debate than what they experienced during the debate itself. 

The highest levels of debate tune-in on CNN occurred between 10:04 p.m. and 10:27 p.m. ET, and again from 10:32 p.m. to 10:35 p.m. During the first period of time, President Trump and Joe Biden were talking about crime, reimagining policing and protests, before shifting to climate change. It was during this time that, when prodded to denounce white supremacy, Trump said proud boys should “stand back and stand by.” The second sustained peak was when they were discussing mail-in voting and voter fraud.

The top local area markets for the debate on CNN by tune-in:

  1. Washington, DC (Hagerstown)
  2. San Francisco-Oak-San Jose
  3. New York
  4. Eureka
  5. Philadelphia

Local area markets for the debate on CNN by tune-in