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Debates between Donald Trump, Joe Biden to look different this year

The Commission on Presidential Debates is not involved in two scheduled TV events taking place in June and September.

The Commission on Presidential Debates is not involved in two scheduled TV events taking place in June and September.

Composite photo of Donald Trump, Joe Biden
Former President Donald Trump (left) and President Joe Biden. (Photos by Gage Skidmore)

Warner Bros Discovery’s (WBD) CNN and the Walt Disney Company’s ABC scored major victories on Wednesday after the groups representing the presumptive Democratic and Republican nominees for president agreed to a pair of televised debates on those networks.

The networks announced the debates on Wednesday after representatives from President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump’s campaigns affirmed their willingness to participate.

The first debate will take place on Thursday, June 27 — months earlier than when debates are usually scheduled — and will air on CNN. The debate will also simulcast on CNN International, CNN en Español and on the News tab via WBD’s streaming service Max. CNN’s website and apps will offer a version of the debate as well. CNN hosts Jake Tapper and Dana Bash will moderate from Atlanta.

The second debate will take place on Tuesday, September 10 and will air on the ABC broadcast network. The debate will also stream on ABC News Live, the network’s free, ad-supported streaming channel, and on Hulu. The moderator or moderating team will be announced at a later date.

Neither debate involves the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), the non-profit organization that works with the two largest political parties in the United States to develop and host presidential debates ahead of Election Day, marking the first time since 1988 that the organization will not play a role.

One of the major responsibilities of CPD is to ensure all broadcast television and radio networks have access to live feeds of the debate, which has been extended to online platforms and publications over the past few years. With CPD not involved in the two debates announced so far, it is up to each network to decide whether to offer a raw video feed of the event to other outlets.

So far, ABC News has confirmed it will offer a live video feed of the debate to its peers, meaning it will likely broadcast on other networks like CBS, Fox and NBC, if they are willing to allocate time in their schedules to it. It could also be offered on cable news networks and digital platforms, too.

CNN has not confirmed that it will follow ABC’s lead, and at least one CNN on-air host has suggested the network might break from tradition.

“I’m sure we’ll make it available to everybody else,” Chris Wallace said on CNN Wednesday evening, shortly after the network announced its debate. “Are our competitors on cable, are the broadcast networks? The reason that they get such huge numbers…was because of the fact you couldn’t miss it. It was on every channel; will it be on every channel? Will ABC, NBC, Fox, MSNBC take the CNN debate? That makes it a very different experience if it’s just wall-to-wall coverage on every broadcast outlet.”

The implication seems to be that CNN has little to benefit from offering a live feed of its debate to broadcast networks, including NBC and Fox, which share certain editorial resources — including live feeds and other video footage — with their co-owned cable news channels.

Presidential debates are among the most-watched live events on television in the United States. In October 2020, more than 70 million American households tuned in to watch a debate involving then-President Trump and then-challenger Biden during the coronavirus pandemic.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 10 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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