Tonight’s presidential debate is expected to be one of the most watched ever, with many critics predicting a Super Bowl-sized audience for the event.
Some experts are saying that as many as 100 million people could tune in. That would put it on par with the 1983 finale of M*A*S*H, the only non-sports television show to draw an audience of that size. Last year’s Super Bowl attracted nearly 112 million viewers.
That spells big bucks for the networks airing the debates. Even though the debate itself will be ad-free, the spots immediately before and after are selling at a premium.
Variety reports that 30-second spots on post-debate coverage are selling for more than $200,000 each. That’s about the same cost as a spot during top prime-time television shows, but it’s far lower than the multi-million dollar price tag for Super Bowl spots.
Networks can’t charge Super Bowl-level prices for ads because no one channel has a monopoly on the broadcast. The debate will air on more than a dozen channels, giving advertisers some leverage in negotiations and choice about where to place their spot.
Many people watching the events may not even turn on the television at all. It’s going to be live-streamed online at more than a dozen outlets, including Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post, Politico, Facebook, Hulu and Twitter.
If the forecast is accurate, that would make the audience more than four times larger than the highest-rated non-sports program on basic cable. That title went to the first Republican primary debate this year, aired on Fox News in August, which drew 24 million viewers.