Wednesday’s GOP debate appears to be the highest-rated event in CNN’s history, according to preliminary Nielsen ratings.
The prime time debate averaged a 14.7 household rating, indicating that 1 in 7 American homes with TVs tuned in.
These are NFL-level ratings — affirming that the Donald Trump fueled Republican debate slate is one of the most popular television shows of the year.
The overnight ratings estimates are subject to adjustments. But the 14.7 rating is likely to translate to 20-plus million viewers once final viewership figures come out Thursday afternoon.
Fox’s GOP debate last month received a 16.0 preliminary rating the next morning. That number later extrapolated to 24 million live viewers. (Another 1.1 million viewers watched via DVRs.)
Fox’s debate was two hours long while CNN’s was three hours.
From a campaign’s perspective, longer might have been better, because it gave candidates more time to talk and argue. It also gave CNN more time for commercial breaks.
But the length may diminish the overall ratings a bit. That’s because the ratings are an average of minute-by-minute viewership, so if viewers didn’t stay for the whole program, the average will be lower.
Hour-by-hour ratings may illuminate this viewer behavior later in the day.
But even the overnight ratings show that these GOP debates are drawing viewers who never bothered turning on a debate before.
For comparison’s sake, CNN’s most-watched presidential primary debate before Wednesday was a Democratic debate on January 31, 2008. It had an average of 8.3 million viewers.
CNN’s most-watched program program ever was a special “Larry King Live” episode in 1993. The episode featured Al Gore and Ross Perot debating NAFTA and averaged 16.8 million viewers.
Wednesday’s debate also set a live-streaming record for the network.
At the midway point of the debate, there were 921,000 concurrent users on CNN’s live stream, easily making it the most-watched web stream of a primary debate ever.