MSNBC Democratic Debate Captured 6.5 Million Viewers, Lowest in Current Cycle

Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., left, and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg stand on stage before a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, in Westerville, OhioElection 2020 Debate, Westerville, USA - 15 Oct 2019
John Minchillo/AP/Shutterstock

MSNBC’s Wednesday-night broadcast of the latest Democratic debate won outsized plaudits from media critics, but its viewership does not appear to have reached similar heights.

According to data measured by Nielsen, the cable-news outlet’s telecast captured just 6.5 million viewers overall and a little more than 1.67 million among viewers between 25 and 54, the demographic coveted most by advertisers in news content. The totals would make the event one of the least-watched in the recent cycle of five Democratic debates that have been offered by the Democratic National Committee in 2019.

MSNBC noted that some people watched the debate in non-traditional fashion.  Coverage generated more than 1.3 live video streams via NBCNews.com MSNBC, and NBC Now on broadband-enabled devices.

In a memo to staff, NBC News and MSNBC Chairman Andy Lack offered praise for Wednesday night’s coverage. “We took a completely blank canvas – a sound stage at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta – and turned it into a stunning debate venue worthy of the moment,” he said. Staffers, he added, “knocked it out of the park.”

While a team of four female journalists from NBC News, MSNBC and The Washington Post was praised for its ability to keep topics focused and prone-to-ramble candidates on track, the MSNBC broadcast won fewer viewers than CNN’s October debate telecast held in conjunction with The New York Times (8.55 million) or the second night of CNN’s July telecast (8.64 million).

The program aired after a long day of televised impeachment inquiry hearings broadcast across many different networks, and it’s possible that viewers who might have normally tuned in to see former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders square off with each other and Senator Cory Booker, Senator Kamala Harris, Tom Steyer, Andrew Yang and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard were simply burnt out on political coverage for the cycle.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell and Kristen Welker and The Washington Post’s Ashley Parker moderated the proceedings.

A two-night debate broadcast among Democratic candidates in June from Miami carried on NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo snared the biggest audience in the current debate cycle. The first night lured 15.27 million, while the second night captured 18.1 million.