ABC News Says It Will Make Its September Presidential Debate Available To Simulcast On Other Networks

ABC News plans to make its coverage of the second presidential debate in September available to other networks for simulcast.

The network announced today that it will host a debate between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump on Sept. 10. That followed an earlier announcement by CNN that Biden and Trump had agreed to a first debate on June 27 at the network’s Atlanta studios, with no audience.

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For both networks, the debates are likely to be ratings blockbusters, showcasing their top talent and personalities. But very soon after the dates were announced, there was some question as to how wide of a reach each of the events will get.

The Commission on Presidential Debates has hosted the debates each cycle since 1988, but the general election matchups were not exclusive to any one network. Rather, a feed was made widely available to networks and streaming services. That undoubtedly helped drive viewership up, with an estimated 73 million watching the first presidential debate last cycle.

CNN has not said whether it would make its feed available to other networks. Chris Wallace, who moderated the first debate last cycle when he was still at Fox News, said on air this afternoon that “I’m sure we’ll make it available to everybody else.”

“Will it be on every channel? Will ABC, NBC, Fox, MSNBC take the CNN debate?” Wallace asked. “That makes it a very different experience if it is just wall-to-wall coverage on every broadcast outlet.”

In announcing its debate plans, ABC News said that it will “make the debate available to simulcast on additional broadcast and streaming news networks in America.” No announcement has yet been made about where the debate, but that event also is expected to take place in studio, according to a source familiar with the plans. The last time a general election presidential debate took place in such a format was in 1960, when John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon participated in a series of four in-studio presidential debates. Those events also were broadcast across networks, albeit the hosts were WBBM-TV in Chicago, WRC-TV in Washington, D.C. and ABC studios in New York and Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, the Commission on Presidential Debates, which had long scheduled three presidential debates in the fall along with a vice presidential match up, issued a statement on the news that it was being aced out of hosting this year’s events, at least so far. The commission “was established in 1987 specifically to ensure that such debates reliably take place and reach the widest television, radio and streaming audience. Our 2024 sites, all locations of higher learning, are prepared to host debates on dates chosen to accommodate early voters. We will continue to be ready to execute this plan.”

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