An average of 8.03 million total viewers watched the PBS NewsHour’s Democratic debate last night, nearly doubling MSNBC’s Dem faceoff results last month. CNN simulcast the debate and nearly doubled its haul, to get to that 8M+ figure.
An average of 4.1M total viewers watched on CNN as Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton debated who loved President Obama more, who loved Henry Kissinger less and whose White House win would be more historic. PBS averaged a slightly smaller 3.9 million viewers of all ages, though the debate was moderated by its Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff.
Among adults 25-54, PBS registered 1.2 million to CNN’s 1.1 million.
CNN was a winner, ranking No. 1 among cable news networks last night in primetime, with an average of 3.1M total viewers. Fox News Channel clocked 2.615M and MSNBC 714K. Same lineup in the news demo: CNN had 841k, FNC 484k and MSNBC 170k.
Last night was the first time this election season two networks teamed up to simulcast a debate, and the combined viewership trounced the previous Democratic debate that aired on MSNBC earlier this month (4.5m total viewer, 1.2m adults 25-54). While January’s Democratic debate on NBC clocked a higher-than-expected 10.2 million viewers, making it the second-most-watched Democratic primary debate of the 2016 cycle (behind CNN’s October debate, which attracted 15.2 million viewers, and the third-most-watched Democratic primary debate ever) February’s MSNBC event led to talk of “viewer fatigue.” Its 4.5 million viewers was the smallest crowd of any debate so far in this election cycle (prior low had been the 7.8 million viewers for ABC’s Democratic debate on Saturday night before Christmas).
But MSNBC’s debate was challenged from the get-go. It was announced only about a week before airdate and not officially sanctioned by the DNC until this week, giving MSNBC just two days to heavily promote the clambake moderated by NBC News’ Chuck Todd and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. That’s too bad, because it was a bit of a brawl — former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton bashed Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for his “artful smear” on her integrity when he compared her campaign financing to his.