(by Joe Concha, The Hill) – The first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump promises to be the most watched ever, with an audience that could exceed 100 million people, according to experts interviewed by The Hill.
A debate with an audience that size would be something never seen before in U.S. politics and would be a figure close to what the Super Bowl gets.
The figure would be even more remarkable in an era in which Americans have countless cable and streaming options.
The 1983 finale of “M*A*S*H” is the only television show that has hit the 100 million mark. This year’s Super Bowl in which the Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers attracted 111.9 viewers, and pop star Katy Perry’s performance at the 2015 Super Bowl had 118.5 million viewers.
In 2012, the first two presidential debates between President Obama and Mitt Romney averaged 66.4 million viewers across broadcast and cable outlets CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, PBS, C-SPAN, Univision and others.
Monday’s debate, hosted by NBC News anchor Lester Holt from Hofstra University in New York, will be carried by all of the broadcast networks [ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX], the cable news networks [Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, C-SPAN], Univision, PBS and a number of streaming options. [All the major news networks will offer a free live stream as will YouTube and Twitter.]
Experts in both politics and television are expecting huge numbers because they have already witnessed one of the most dramatic…and unpredictable presidential races in U.S. history.
Much of the anticipation is driven by Trump, the television personality turned Republican presidential nominee who created a ratings bonanza for cable networks during the GOP primary.
CNN and FOX News both scored record viewership for a primary debate as Trump battled his Republican rivals in August.
“I think [presidential] debate ratings, especially the first one, will be through the roof, astronomical, and may even approach Super Bowl numbers of viewers,” says Paul Levinson, a communications professor at Fordham University and author of the book “New New Media.”
It’s not just Trump who is driving interest. This is also the first presidential debate to pit a male candidate against a female candidate as Democrat Hillary Clinton seeks to become the first woman to be elected president.
“Viewers sense the potential for drama and the unpredictable,” said Jeff McCall, a professor of media studies at DePauw University who thinks the size of the audience will surpass the record of 80 million who watched the 1980 contest between President Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan — who like Trump entered politics with a background in entertainment.
The Carter-Reagan showdown got a huge audience at the time when Americans had fewer alternatives on television, and it was the only time the two men debated.
…Trump and Clinton will debate two more times on Oct. 9 and Oct. 19. …
Levinson predicts the debate will hit 100 million viewers, and that social media will drive even more people to the contest. “The reason, of course, is the extraordinary interest in this presidential election, featuring two unprecedented and highly controversial candidates,” he said. “The first woman [to be nominated by a major party] versus someone with zero political experience or government service.” [Donald Trump is the first presidential candidate to have never run for an elected office or served in any government position.]
Brian Flood, a media reporter for TheWrap .com, went even higher. “I think the first debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will surpass 100 million viewers. I’ll make my official prediction 112 million,” he said. “I feel that it will be one of the most-watched TV events in the history of the medium.”
…One factor could drive down the debate’s ratings: It’s going head-to-head with “Monday Night Football,” something that led Trump to criticize the Commission on Presidential Debates earlier this year.
The game begins on ESPN at 8:30 p.m. Eastern, a half-hour before the debate is scheduled to begin. “Monday Night Football” averaged 12.9 million viewers per week during the 2015 season.
While the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons will enter the game with a combined record of 1-3, football tends to defeat all comers when it comes to television ratings and is likely to take a chunk of the viewership.
…Dave Briggs, a former Fox News host who jumped over to NBC Sports in 2013 as a studio host said, “…The debates will win the night but never pull away many of those 10 million Falcons, Saints and, most importantly, fantasy football fans,” he said.
…Chad Wilkinson, a former cable news executive producer who is now president of Liberty Media Strategies, believes the NFL will make it impossible for Trump and Clinton to get 100 million, or even 80 million viewers.
“We are looking at massive viewing numbers for the first presidential debate but because of ‘Monday Night Football’ on ESPN, we won’t see a record,” he said.
Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from The Hill. For the original article, visit thehill .com.
1. a) When is the first presidential debate? (date, time, place, how/where to watch)
b) How many viewers are possible, according to experts interviewed by The Hill?
2. Why would such a large number of viewers be so significant? (see para. 2-3)
3. How would 100 million compare to the final episode of MASH? to the 2016 Super Bowl? the 2015 Super Bowl halftime show?
4. What does The Hill reporter credit for the huge audience for the first debate between Clinton and Trump?
5. In paragraph 11 the reporter states: “It’s not just Trump who is driving interest. This is also the first presidential debate to pit a male candidate against a female candidate as Democrat Hillary Clinton seeks to become the first woman to be elected president.”
Do you think record breaking viewership would be predicted if Jeb Bush or Ted Cruz was the Republican nominee debating first woman nominee Hillary Clinton? Explain your answer.
6. What can you conclude about factors affecting debate viewership from the following information?
–In 2004, the first debate between President George W. Bush and Democratic candidate John Kerry brought in 62.5 million viewers.
–In 2008, the first debate between the first African-American presidential nominee Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain brought in 52.4 million viewers.
–The first presidential debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney in 2012 brought in 67.2 million viewers. No first round debate has hit that high of a number since President Jimmy Carter went up against Republican candidate Ronald Reagan in 1980 for 80.6 million viewers.
7. Jeff McCall, a professor of media studies, thinks viewership for this debate will be huge because “Viewers sense the potential for drama and the unpredictable.”
Communications professor Paul Levinson thinks that social media will drive even more people to the contest. “The reason, of course, is the extraordinary interest in this presidential election, featuring two unprecedented and highly controversial candidates,” he said. “The first woman [to be nominated by a major party] versus someone with zero political experience or government service.”
a) For what reasons do Dave Briggs and Chad Wilkinson say the debate will not get the enormous record-breaking viewership the others predict?
b) Do you think Briggs and Wilkinson are correct? Explain your answer.
8. a) Many Americans develop their perceptions of a debate based on news coverage following the debate. How important do you think it is for voters to watch the debate themselves and come to their own conclusions about the candidates? Explain your answer.
b) In addition to watching debates, what else should voters do to learn about the candidates?