About 8.5 million viewers – the smallest debate audience in this White House election cycle – watched last night’s Democratic hopefuls take part in the season’s first debate to air on a broadcast network.
The broadcast also marked the first debate of this cycle to air on a Saturday night, when broadcast TV viewing typically is low. Political navel-gazers have suggested the scheduling was no accident but rather part of an effort by DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to minimize viewing of Hillary-bashing by other candidates. The next Dem debate has an even tougher timeslot: the Saturday before Christmas.
Also contributing to last night’s small-ish crowd: No Donald Trump, or the drama of a presidential candidate defending his claims of stabbing a belt buckle or clobbering his mom with a hammer. With Trump and Ben Carson on board, the most recent GOP debate, just days earlier, had bagged 13.5 million viewers on Fox Business Network.
The first Dem debate, on CNN, did considerably better than last night’s go-round, averaging 15.3M viewers.
CBS this morning said its CBSN live-streaming channel drew a record 1.2M streams for last night’s debate, which received generally good reviews, especially for moderator John Dickerson. Not so much for Dem frontrunner Clinton, though, who got torched on Twitter during the debate when she played both the gender and the 9/11 cards after Bernie Sanders wondered, “Why, over her political career, has Wall Street been the major campaign contributor to Hillary Clinton? Maybe they’re dumb and they don’t know what they’re gonna get, but I don’t think so.”
Until last night, political debates had been hit programming this TV season. Last month, CNBC logged 14 million viewers with its GOP debate, against Game 2 of the World Series, marking the cable business-news network’s biggest audience in its history. The cycle’s dizzying height happened way back in August when an eye-popping 24 million people watched Trump make his GOP debate debut on Fox News Channel. Interest barely waned the following month when CNN’s GOP debate clocked a slightly smaller crowd of 23 million.