Leaders' debate draws TV audience of almost 10m

An audience of 9.9 million viewers watched last night’s historic election debate between the three party leaders, figures showed today.

An average of 9.4 million people tuned in to see Nick Clegg, David Cameron and Gordon Brown go head to head, making it the most-watched show of the day – beating even Coronation Street which immediately preceded it.

It had more viewers than the other four terrestrial channels combined at that time.

The audience for the ITV1 show peaked at around 9pm when 9.9 million tuned in. The debate began with an audience of 8.8 million at 8.30pm, building to its peak half an hour later.

The audience slid slightly to finish at 9.3 million viewers who watched the final half hour of the debate, which was hosted by Alastair Stewart.

All in all the programme had a 37 per cent share of the audience – which means more than a third of TV viewers were watching the programme during its 90-minute duration.

The debate was the first of three, with others over the next fortnight to be screened by Sky and BBC1.

Despite the historic nature of the event it proved to be less of a crowd-puller than the live episode of EastEnders earlier this year which drew nearly six million more, with an average of 15.3 million.

One of the most popular alternatives to the debate was a chance to see the party leaders pilloried on BBC1’s Have I Got News For You, which had 4.3 million viewers.

Despite having a politically keen audience, the show saw only a slight drop in its usual 5 million audience despite going up against a live debate.

The other big audience was for BBC1’s Outnumbered which began at 9.30pm and drew 4.6 million viewers.

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