Feisty GOP Debate on CNN, Telemundo Draws Largest Political Audience of 2016

UPDATE: In final Nielsen nationals, the viewership total for CNN’s coverage of the debate (8:42-10:53 p.m. ET) came down a bit, to 13.101 million. As a result, last night’s English-language telecast of the debate ended up drawing a slightly smaller audience than either of the recent debates on ABC (13.335 million on Feb. 6) or CBS (13.444 million on Feb. 13).

An average audience of 1.22 million watched Telemundo’s coverage of the debate, bringing the two-network total to 14.32 million and making it the most-watched debate of 2016. The Telemundo/CNN debate took place one week after a Telemundo/MSNBC Democratic Town Hall from Las Vegas, as the Spanish-language network was able to offer a direct dialogue between all Presidential candidates and the Latino audience before Super Tuesday.

 

The final Republican primary gathering before Super Tuesday produced plenty of insults and fireworks on stage Thursday night — and the largest audience for any debate in more than two months.

In Nielsen’s preliminary national estimates, the GOP debate averaged 14.521 million viewers combined on CNN (13.256 million) and Spanish-language broadcast network Telemundo (1.265). This tops every debate since CNN’s last Republican debate on Dec. 15 drew 18.165 million. Last summer’s first two GOP debates, driven by curiosity about Donald Trump, remain the most-watched to date, drawing 24 million on Fox News Channel and a little over 23 million on CNN.

On the Democratic side, the most recent debate on Feb. 11 averaged a combined 8.03 million viewers on CNN and PBS.

In the key news demo of adults 25-54, Thursday’s debate drew a strong 4.684 million on CNN (4.058 million) and Telemundo (626,000). This is well above the roughly 3.4 million-3.5 million in the demo for the prior three GOP debates and is also the highest since Dec. 15 (5.65 million on CNN).

CNN again scored well in Web engagement and streaming viewership for the debate. The day saw 10 million video starts and 2.1 million total live streams (Web, app, Apple TV and Roku). Streaming engagement peaked at 10:05 p.m. ET with 708,000 concurrent streams.

Thursday’s debate from Houston saw Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio take their most pointed jabs yet at front-runner Donald Trump. The Florida senator, in particular, was more animated and confrontational than in any of their previous nine GOP debates of the past six months — attacking the business mogul on subjects including immigration, foreign policy and his hiring practices.

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer moderated, with assistance from the network’s Dana Bash, Telemundo’s Maria Celeste Arraras and Salem Radio host Hugh Hewitt. The event came just five days before Super Tuesday, when 595 delegates are up for grabs in contests across the country.

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