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The first presidential debate of the 2024 cycle, hosted by CNN on Thursday, attracted 51.3 million viewers, according to the network – far fewer than the first debate in 2020, which attracted 73.1 million viewers.

The drop was not surprising. Thursday’s debate took place much earlier in the calendar than previous debates, which typically air in the fall, and at a time of year when many Americans have not yet fully followed the presidential campaign.

“It is abundantly clear that the decline in viewership for yesterday’s debate was primarily due to the fact that ratings in June were significantly lower than in October,” wrote Michael Mulvihill, a Fox analyst, on X.

Debate viewership has fluctuated from cycle to cycle. This century, the first debate of a campaign cycle with the highest ratings was the September 26, 2016, debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, which drew 84 million viewers. The three contests this year averaged 74 million viewers.

Typically, viewership drops after the first debate of the cycle, and the second debate of the 2020 election brought in just 63 million viewers. But that trend is likely to reverse this year, considering ABC’s scheduled Sept. 10 debate will take place much closer to the election.

While CNN produced and hosted the event, the network also made the feed available to other television networks, which had to adhere to a set of guidelines in order to broadcast the program.

The debate broadcast on CNN reached 9.5 million viewers, on Fox News 9.3 million and on MSNBC 4.1 million. If CNN had not allowed other networks to broadcast the debate, CNN would likely have attracted a larger audience.

The number doesn’t come anywhere close to the debate’s actual viewership, considering how many people watched the event on a streaming platform or via clips shared on a social media platform. Nearly 10 million people watched the debate on CNN’s YouTube page, which was also embedded on the websites of many news publications.

This story has been updated to include full ratings data from Nielsen.

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