Viewer interest in the primary debates of both parties remains higher than previous years, with the second Democratic get-together of 2015 drawing a good-for-Saturday 8.55 million viewers on CBS, according to Nielsen estimates. The first debate of the year to air on a broadcast network drew more than double what CBS typically draws on Saturday nights.
The 8.55 million makes Saturday’s debate from Des Moines, Iowa, the lowest-rated of the six debates in recent months — and well below the 15.8 million who watched the year’s first Democratic debate of the year on CNN last month — but this was the first one to be held on a Saturday, when viewing levels are at their lowest of the week. Four years ago on the second Saturday of November, a Republican primary debate on CBS averaged 5.48 million viewers, and a mid-November Democratic debate on CNN in 2007 drew a little over 4 million.
This fall, CBS has averaged about 4.2 million viewers for its regular crime-series programming on Saturday nights. Demographic breakdowns weren’t available, but the debate figures to draw in the vicinity of a 1.8 rating in adults 18-49 and a 2.0 in adults 25-54 when final nationals are released by Nielsen on Tuesday.
In addition to the 8.55 million viewers from 9-11 p.m. ET, CBSN set viewership records for its debate coverage, drawing 1.2 million streams across connected TV devices, mobile and online platforms. CBSN also set full-day viewership records with 2.4 million total streams on Saturday.
Driven in large part by the controversy regarding Donald Trump’s first bid to become president, this year’s GOP debates have been especially big draws. Fox News Channel broke all primary debate and non-sports cable records when 24 million tuned in for the first debate in August, and it was followed by debates on CNN on Sept. 16 (23.1 million), on CNBC on Oct. 28 (14 million) and Fox Business Network last week (13.5 million).
Last night’s debate, featuring Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, was moderated by John Dickerson of “Face the Nation.” CBS News decided late Friday night to shift gears in its questions for the debate, opting for more of a focus on national security and foreign policy in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris.
Also of note on the ratings front last night, “Saturday Night Live” with host Elizabeth Banks, averaged a 4.0 household rating/10 share in the overnights and a 1.9 rating/9 share in adults 18-49, based on Nielsen’s 25 markets with Local People Meters. It was well down as expected from the overnights for last week’s episode with Donald Trump as host (6.6/16 in households, 2.7/13 in 18-49) and was more in line with the season’s second episode of the season, featuring Amy Schumer as host (3.9/10 in households, 1.9/9 in 18-49). The show opened with a brief tribute to the city of Paris, issued by Cecily Strong.