When the first presidential debate of 2016 begins on September 26 at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, it will be 56 years to the day of the first televised general election debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960.
The pending showdown between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in September has all the makings of an epic event, one that many feel may just break the presidential debate viewership record set by Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter in 1980. The back and forth between Clinton and The Donald have created an environment where people are genuinely excited to tune in and find out what a live televised debate will bring. "People are expecting a brawl. Nothing attracts viewers like a brawl" said Allen Adamson, a former branding executive. "No one's going to want to be at a dinner party and not have an opinion on who hit the knockout punch" Adamson concluded.
The most watched presidential debate thus far was the Reagan-Carter debate in 1980, which drew 81 million viewers Bloomberg reports, with no other debate coming close to that number since (for context, 114 million watched the 2015 Super Bowl - which really shouldn't surprise anyone). However there is a feeling that a Trump-Clinton debate could top the 81 million mark. General election debates are organized by the Commission on Presidential Debates, and the commission is going to work to get the word out about the events using all social media platforms available. "This election is unlike any election I'm familiar with. There's a dramatic change going on in American culture with regards to politics, and we want to make sure that we can best inform the American people" says Frank Fahrenkopf Jr, the co-founder of the Commission. In order to broaden the viewership, Fahrenkopf said that the commission is talking with "Facebook and Twitter and you name it." Last year, Facebook launched a live-video streaming service, and Twitter has begun embedding live video into users' timelines.
Networks are preparing for the debates by making sure to schedule shows as to not lose out on ratings. NBC and Fox have both delayed debuts of some shows to make sure the debates don't cause the debut to flop. On the other side of things, marketers are trying to figure out how to monetize the events, given that the debates don't have commercials. One idea by entrepreneur Vicky Brago-Mitchell has been to begin selling T-shirts with images of Trump and Clinton engaged in a boxing match, with the tagline "The most violent fight in the world." Perhaps more importantly for those playing at home, Dan Mueller, the creator of an online-debate drinking game, is compiling a list of words to populate the 2016 version - however he knows there is so much to choose from that he doesn't want to go too crazy with it. "We'll probably pick up some highlights from the primary debates, when Trump did real well with 'China' and 'tremendous'. We don't want to go too crazy with it because we can get people really, really drunk."
Even those outside of the US are looking forward to the debates. Joshua Castillo, an engineering student in Mexico City says Mexicans will be watching, fascinated as never before by the US presidential politics (said otherwise, fascinated by whether or not a US president will be elected that claims a wall will be built and illegal immigration rules enforced). In Moscow, Dmitriy Kosmodemiyanskiy, a money manager at Otkritie Asset Management says that "Russians are very interested", even though it will mean getting up at 4am. Tristan Averett, an American who runs a consulting firm in Lisbon is even planning on having slumber parties to watch the debates, which will air at 2am local time.
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While we're not sure if any viewership records will be broken, we must agree that the forthcoming debates will be filled with plenty of water cooler material for the next morning. Whether or not that is actually constructive for the United States is another matter entirely.