By James Hibberd
October 10, 2016 at 02:05 PM EDT
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Sunday night’s bitter debate-pocalypse showdown Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was predicted to potentially deliver even bigger ratings than their first face-off two weeks ago.

Very early numbers from broadcast networks covering the debate from Missouri suggest extremely high viewership — particularly for a second debate — but are unlikely to top the first debate.

Among broadcast networks, the debate scored combined 21.3 household rating compared to a combined 30.4 for the first debate. That would seem like a very clear decline. But making matters tricky is the fact the loss is mainly due to NBC airing Sunday Night Football instead of the debate (NBC did carry the first debate — and had the largest ratings of any broadcaster). So viewership Sunday night on CBS received a boost as you’d expect. But ABC and Fox were notably about the same as last time.

So the question becomes: Did NBC News viewers jump to the cable news networks? Those ratings won’t be released until later. CNN, which moderated the debate, might also have significantly improved. But overall, any cable-side improvement is unlikely to cumulatively close the gap created by NBC sitting this one out — as well as the usual erosion of interest in debates as we march closer toward Election Day.

Updates to come …