The vice presidential debate between incumbent Mike Pence and challenger Kamala Harris drew an audience of 50.7 million viewers on seven big networks Wednesday, the strongest showing in a dozen years.
Fox Corp.’s namesake news channel led with 11.5 million viewers, according to preliminary Nielsen data released by AT&T Inc.’s CNN. Walt Disney Co.’s ABC came in second with 9.41 million.
The results topped the 37.2 million people who tuned in to watch Tim Kaine debate Pence four years ago, a number that was based on nine networks. Wednesday’s clash fell below the 69.9 million who tuned in to watch Joe Biden debate Sarah Palin on 11 networks in 2008.
Fuller Nielsen data expected later Thursday will probably move the Pence-Harris debate past the 51.4 million who watched Biden and Paul Ryan on 12 networks in 2012.
While traditional TV viewing is shrinking in an age of on-demand streaming services, big events continue to draw. News channels in particular have been seeing a surge in ratings, with the public fixated on not just the election but the ongoing pandemic and its fallout.
The debate was the first since President Donald Trump and many members of his inner circle were diagnosed with Covid-19. The vice-presidential candidates faced off from behind plexiglass shields on stage.