Donald Trump and Joe Biden
Donald Trump and Joe Biden Reuters

More than 73 million people watched the first debate between US President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden Tuesday night, CNN reported on Wednesday.

The television audience for the debate was down from the first debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016, but it was higher than almost every other debate in modern American history.

By almost any measure, the audience was massive. Tuesday's clash was the biggest event on American TV since the Super Bowl last February.

Nielsen said "an estimated 73.1 million people" watched Tuesday's debate across 16 channels.

The Nielsen ratings only include Americans who watched on television sets. An unknown number of people live-streamed the debate on their phones, listened on the radio, and watched in other ways, which means the total audience easily surpassed 73 million.

Some campaign officials and media executives predicted that the total audience would surpass the 2016 record, when 84 million viewers watched the first debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Viewership on Tuesday night topped all of the debates in 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012, and all but one of the match-ups in 2016.

Nielsen's records go back to 1976. Only two debates had a bigger average audience than Tuesday night: The 2016 face-off between Trump and Clinton, and the sole debate of the 1980 cycle, when 80.6 million people watched Ronald Reagan take on Jimmy Carter.

The first Trump-Clinton debate averaged 84 million viewers, while the rematch averaged 66.5 million and the final debate averaged 71.6 million viewers.

Streaming options are also more popular now than they were four years ago, so a greater number of people likely watched via live-streaming.

Nielsen's calculations include people who watched via internet-connected TV sets, but not people who streamed the event on other devices.

A CNN poll published following Tuesday’s debate found that a majority of viewers said that Biden won the debate.

However, a second poll conducted by YouGov found that most viewers were “annoyed” by the debate and it failed to yield a clear winner.

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