22.9 million watch Trump and Republicans debate, a new audience high for CNN
CNN’s Republican primary debate Wednesday had an average audience of 22.9 million viewers, making it the most watched event in the 35-year history of the cable news channel.
The three-hour-plus showdown between Donald Trump, Jeb Bush and the nine other contenders for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination was expected to be a major TV attraction after the first GOP debate on Aug. 6 pulled in 24 million viewers on Fox News Channel.
According to Nielsen, the debate audience topped the previous CNN ratings record of 16.8 million who watched “Larry King Live” with Ross Perot and Al Gore on Nov. 9, 1993.
Excluding sports programming, FNC’s debate is the most watched event ever on cable TV.
CNN did not exceed the Fox number in part because its debate ran an hour longer and started about an hour earlier, when there are typically fewer people watching television. The network’s numbers are based on the audience from 8:15 p.m. to 11:15 p.m. EDT.
The debate audience peaked in the 9 p.m. EDT hour with 24.7 million viewers. The 8 p.m. hour averaged 20.7 million viewers. The 10 p.m. hour averaged 22.5 million viewers.
CNN was aware that it had a potential big night thanks in large part to Trump, who boosts news ratings whenever he does interviews or gives campaign speeches. The network also relentlessly promoted the event, held at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley and moderated by CNN anchor Jake Tapper.
CNN’s ad rates soared to around $150,000 for a 30-second spot on the debate. Movie studios, which typically pay top dollar for spots, had spots in every commercial break during the telecast.
CNN’s earlier debate with the second tier of lower-polling Republican contenders averaged 6.3 million viewers.
Online viewing peaked at 9:45 p.m. EDT with 921,000 simultaneous streams on the CNNgo app and the TV Everywhere service.
Prior to Wednesday night’s debate, CNN’s highest rated presidential primary debate was the California Democratic debate on Jan. 31, 2008 which averaged 8.3 million viewers.
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