Biden-Trump debate draws 48M TV viewers

new york — Roughly 48 million TV viewers tuned in to watch Thursday’s U.S. presidential debate between Democratic President Joe Biden and Republican rival Donald Trump, according to preliminary Nielsen data.

The number suggests the final audience will be about one-third less than the 73 million people who watched the candidates’ first face-off in 2020, and among the three lowest-rated first presidential debates since 1976.

The relatively low number compared with past debates in recent election cycles could be indicative of low voter enthusiasm for both candidates. It does not capture the full extent of online viewing, which has grown in popularity as traditional TV audiences decline.

Media experts were looking to see how a new format by host CNN would play out, and whether it would provide a template for future debates. The restrictions of that format, which included the option for CNN to mute the candidates’ microphones, imposed some discipline on the candidates and should be emulated by other networks, three media experts said.

CNN, which held the exclusive rights to present the debate, allowed candidates two minutes for each answer and one minute for rebuttals, and muted their microphones if they exceeded those limits. The studio did not have an audience, and moderators Dana Bash and Jake Tapper did not fact-check the candidates in real time.

CNN defended itself against the criticism from some media commentators that the absence of real-time fact-checking allowed both candidates to spread false claims.

“The role of the moderators is to present the candidates with questions that are important to American voters and to facilitate a debate, enabling candidates to make their case and challenge their opponent,” a CNN spokesperson said in a statement.

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