The first debate between 2016 presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was the most-watched debate in United States history, drawing 84 million viewers across 13 TV channels. If you add in the event’s digital numbers, its audience grows even more; specifically, YouTube has announced that its live-streaming coverage of the political tussle drew nearly two million concurrent viewers at its peak.
YouTube’s coverage of the debate was split across six different streams, with news organizations like PBS News Hour, Fox News, and The Washington Post offering up their own broadcasts. In total, viewers watched the six feeds for a total of three million hours.
The YouTube viewership of the first debate increased drastically over the analogous event from 2012. Clinton and Trump’s war of words drew 14 times as many viewers as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney’s initial debate, while also achieving five times as much watch time and four times as many peak concurrent viewers.
There are two main explanations for the surge in debate viewership. Most simply, this is a particularly captivating (and crazy) election, and many people who don’t often care about politics have been tuning in. Earlier this year, live streams from the Democratic and Republican National Conventions drew more than nine million views on YouTube. The other explanation concerns YouTube’s investment in its live library and the big growth it has seen in that area as a result.
YouTube will look to continue to pull in big numbers when it hosts live streams for the next three general election debates. The next clash, on October 4th will feature Vice Presidential candidates Tim Kaine and Mike Pence, who are both significantly less interesting than their running mates and should not be expected to draw equivalent viewership. Nonetheless, YouTube will carry that debate, as well as all the others, thanks to a deal with ABC News.