An average of 15.3 million viewers watched the South Carolina debate on CBS, according to Nielsen. The figure also includes viewers of a simulcast on BET and BET Her.
CBS drew 14.8 million viewers, with about 556,000 watching the BET simulcasts. The network said that it was the largest audience for a single-network broadcasting a debate this cycle.
For its coverage of the Las Vegas debate last week, NBC drew 12.1 million viewers and MSNBC drew 7.7 million viewers. But their combined viewership of almost 20 million set a record for a Democratic primary matchup.
In the spin-heavy world of the network news ratings race, NBC argued that its audience would have been larger had viewers not had the option of also watching it on their news network.
Meanwhile, CBS said that its streaming service, CBSN, set viewership records with 21.8 million streams and 15.1 million unique viewers for the day.
The post-debate program on CBS drew 5.6 million viewers.
PREVIOUSLY: CBS drew an average audience of more than 13 million viewers in primetime Tuesday for the South Carolina presidential debate, against showing strong interest in the Democratic primary, according to early numbers.
The figures were fast affiliate numbers from Nielsen and subject to revision later Wednesday, but they indicate a possible rise in broadcast viewership for a debate.
The total TV viewership of the South Carolina debate will be even higher, as the figures do not include numbers for BET’s simulcast. Final figures will be released later Wednesday.
CBS’ post-debate coverage drew 5.5 million viewers, according to the early numbers.
The raucous debate featured rivals of Bernie Sanders going on the attack against the front-runner, as well as moments where it became difficult for the moderators to control candidates from talking over one another.
The event was the final debate before the South Carolina and Super Tuesday primaries. That likely means that one or more of the debate participants will drop out by the time of the next debate, scheduled for March 15 in Phoenix.
Elsewhere in primetime, NBC’s The Voice (1.4 rating in the adults 18-49 demo, 8.53M viewers) made its Tuesday debut and was off a tenth from its Monday season premiere. It was followed by This Is Us (1.4, 7.07M), which was up a tenth and gained in viewers. They gave the network the second-best numbers overall Tuesday behind CBS’ debate coverage. New Amsterdam (0.7, 5.18M) followed and was even.
Fox meanwhile aired a special 24 Hours to Hell and Back at 8 PM (0.6, 2.13M), leading into the season finale of the Gordon Ramsay-led reality show at 9 PM (0.6, 2.02M). Both ratings were on par with the previous week.
Other notable programs Tuesday included ABC’s For Life (0.6, 2.49M) and the CW’s The Flash (0.4, 1.18M), both even week over week.