GOP Debate Ratings: CNN Draws Network-Record 23.1 Million Viewers

UPDATE: In updated Nielsen estimates, viewership for Wednesday’s GOP primary debate grew from the originally reported 22.9 million to about 23.1 million. That pulled it a little closer to the 24 million who watched last month’s Fox News debate.


Viewer interest in the early Republican primary debates continues to be huge, with CNN breaking all-time network ratings records for its coverage of Wednesday’s clash — even if the total fell short of the tune-in for last month’s debate on Fox News Channel.

Thanks again in large part to popularity and unpredictability of GOP front-runner Donald Trump, Wednesday’s three-hour debate from Simi Valley, Calif., averaged 22.9 million viewers from 8:15 to 11:15 p.m. ET, according to Nielsen. This is more than seven times what CNN drew for its first Republican primary debate of the 2012 cycle (3.16 million).

The first GOP primary debate of the 2016 cycle, Aug. 6 on FNC, drew 24 million viewers, the largest-ever same-night audience for a non-sports cable program, including roughly 7.9 million adults 25-54.

CNN’s previous all-time ratings record came in November 1993, when an edition of “Larry King Live” pitting Vice President Al Gore against Ross Perot in a heated discussion on NAFTA drew 16.8 million viewers. The network’s previous high for any presidential debate came in January 2008, when Democratic front-runners Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama averaged 8.32 million viewers.

The ratings average for Wednesday’s debate likely was dragged down by its unwieldy three-hour run time. The first GOP debate in August on Fox News came in at a more palatable two hours.

Tapping its TV Everywhere service CNNgo, CNN live-streamed the debate on CNN.com and through its mobile apps. At 9:45 p.m. ET, usage peaked at 921,000 concurrentl live streams. The day saw 4.5 million live video starts of the debate across its digital platforms.

CNN’s first debate, featuring four lower-tier Republican presidential hopefuls, averaged about 6.3 million viewers, up a bit from the 6.1 million who watched the comparable debate on Fox News in August.

The next GOP primary debate, to be held in Boulder, Colo., is scheduled for Oct. 28 and will air on CNBC. The first Democratic debate will be held Oct. 13 from Las Vegas and air on CNN.

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