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Trump-Biden TV debate audience slumps below 2016 record, early data show

U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participate in their first 2020 presidential campaign debate held on the campus of the Cleveland Clinic at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., September 29, 2020. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The first U.S. presidential debate between Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden likely attracted a much smaller television audience than the record set four years ago, according to preliminary data released on Wednesday.

An estimated 28.7 million people tuned in on broadcast networks ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, below the roughly 45 million viewers who watched Trump debate former first lady Hillary Clinton on those channels in 2016.

Data from additional networks was due to be released later on Wednesday.

In a chaotic 90-minute faceoff ahead of the Nov. 3 election, Biden and Trump battled fiercely over Trump’s record on the coronavirus pandemic, healthcare and the economy

The early figures suggest the final total television tally will rank well below the record 84 million for the first Trump-Clinton debate in 2016, a rare number in an age of digital streaming.

The TV numbers do not include people who watched via online platforms, which are growing in popularity as traditional TV viewership declines. The event, moderated by Fox News Channel host Chris Wallace, was streamed live on Twitter, YouTube, network websites and other digital platforms.

The debate was the first of three ahead of the Nov. 3 election. The next Trump and Biden matchups are scheduled for Oct. 15 and Oct. 22.

The group that manages U.S. presidential election debates said on Wednesday it would take steps to bring order to the final two contests between Trump and Biden.

A debate between vice presidential candidates Mike Pence and Kamala Harris is set for Oct. 7.

Reporting by Lisa Richwine, Editing by Franklin Paul and Howard Goller

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