Updated with final stats: About 5.6 million viewers watched CNN’s Democratic debate last night from 9-11 PM, according to early Nielsen stats, which would put it at the low end of Dem debates to date. That despite CNN’s best effort to whip up viewer interest leading up to the ninth such meeting between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, with talk of a Big Apple Brawl brewing at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
The debate’s audience included 1.8M news-demo viewers, according to Nielsen. Of the 5.6M viewers, 5.4M watched via CNN and another 171K watched via NYC cable TV news channel NY1, which co-hosted the event.
For primetime, CNN clocked 4.2M viewers and 1.3M in the news demo, besting FNC’s 2.4M overall and 409K in the demo, and MSNBC’s 748K total view tally with 211K in the demo.
These results fall short of the 6 million people who watched the CNN- simulcast Univision Democratic Primary Debate last month, at which Clinton got asked by a moderator, whose daughter is working for Clinton’s campaign, if she’d withdraw from the race if indicted, Clinton and Sanders defied instructions by a moderator to call Donald Trump “racist,” and Sanders dared to wear a brown suit. That included about 4M on CNN (and another 2 million via the Spanish-language network), putting CNN on top in primetime that night with an average of 3.2M total viewers, besting FNC’s 2.9M and MSNBC’s 791k.
In February, 8 million viewers watched the CNN-simulcast PBS-moderated Democratic debate last night, nearly doubling the previous month’s MSNBC-hosted Dem faceoff. CNN clocked more than 4M viewers that night, during which PBS moderators Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff got Sanders and Clinton to debate who loved President Obama more, who loved Henry Kissinger less, and whose White House win would be more historic. That night too, CNN’s simulcast put the network on top in primetime with 3.1M total viewers, to FNC’s 2.6M and MSNBC’s 714K.
An earlier February debate on MSNBC, which nabbed about a million fewer viewers than did last night’s clambake, had TV navel-lint gazers talking about debate fatigue. That’s because it had followed January’s Democratic debate, on NBC, which snared a higher-than-expected 10.2 million viewers, making it the second-most-watched Democratic primary debate of the 2016 cycle.
But CNN’s October debate, with its nearly 16 million viewers, still stands as the most watched Dem debate of this election cycle, and the third most watched Dem primary debate in history.
What last night’s debate lacked in audience size in more than made up for in raucousness. Sanders clocked Clinton over her use in the late 90’s of the term “superpredator,” saying he’d called her on it, “Because it was a racist term. And everybody knew it was a racist term.”
When Clinton insisted she had “called out” the mortgage rannaygazoo of banks in the days leading up to the recession, Sanders snarked back: “Secretary Clinton called them out! My goodness, they must have been really crushed by this. And was that before or after you received huge sums of money by giving speaking engagements? They must have been very, very upset by what you did!”
But one of the biggest blows of the night was directed at the network itself, by Clinton: