YouTube: presidential debates were the most-watched political live streams ever

YouTube’s airing of the U.S. presidential debates via news organizations’ live streams have clocked in as the most-viewed political live streams of all time, the company says. That’s not surprising, given the growing number of cord cutters, the international attention the debates have garnered, and the fact that, generally speaking, political live streams aren’t always this entertaining. (Well, if your definition of entertainment involves watching the debacle that has become American politics.)

That being said, the numbers for the third and final presidential debate were up slightly from the prior one, with 2.8 million “live watch hours,” compared with the second debate’s over 2.5 million. However, it was down a bit from the first debate’s 3 million live watch hours.

These numbers don’t necessarily speak to audience interest in the political streams, though, as the debates, at times, have had to compete with other large televised event, like NBC’s Sunday Night Football, for example.

YouTube also says that the third debate saw 1.7 million live peak concurrent viewers, again an increase over the second debate, which had over 1.5 million peak concurrents. But this was down from debate #1, with its nearly 2 million peak concurrents.

Still, the third debate’s numbers are up from the same event in 2012, with peak concurrents 4 times higher than the last presidential election, and live watch hours 5 times higher than in 2012.

Combined, there were over 140 million views on all debate-related videos for this third debate, says YouTube. That’s up from 124 million for the second debate, and more than the 88 million for the first.

Keep in mind this figure for “debated-related videos” represents more than the live streamed events – anything that features the debates is fair game here.

Also remember that these numbers, while growing over previous years, can’t be compared directly with TV ratings.

Traditional television is still where the majority of Americans are watching: Nielsen reported the final debate pulled in an estimated 71.6 million viewers, which was below the numbers from the first debate (a record 84 million, the largest in the history of U.S. presidential debates); but the third debate on TV also clocked in as the third-largest total ever recorded by Nielsen, since it began collecting viewership numbers for these events back in 1976.

If anything, YouTube’s metrics, in part, point to the growing numbers of people who watch online video – a figure which has been climbing over the years, and especially on YouTube – as well international interest in the current election.

Searches for U.S. election content are up 547 percent compared to the last race, the company noted. After the U.S., the top countries viewing the third debate live were Canada, the U.K., Mexico and Australia.

What’s interesting, too, about how the debates play out on YouTube is that many viewers don’t watch these events end-to-end. According to YouTube figures, on average, viewers watched the three debates for 22 minutes. Whether that figure can be attributed to online viewers’ shorter attention spans or a collective inability to stomach the entire event is, well, still debatable.

Image credits: Trump: Win McNamee; Clinton: Robyn Beck / Getty Images