Democratic Debate Ratings Exceed NBC’s Expectations, at 15.3 Million Viewers

MIAMI — Nearly 15.3 million Americans tuned in on Wednesday for the first debate of the Democratic nominating contest for president, a higher number than NBC News producers had anticipated and a sign of significant national interest in the 2020 campaign.

The television viewership nearly equaled the record for a Democratic primary debate, set in October 2015 for a matchup on CNN that included Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

By contrast, Wednesday’s debate was arguably the less enticing half of a two-day event in Miami, with only one candidate, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, in the top polling tier of the current field.

The big audience — 495 days before Election Day and seven months before the Iowa caucuses — suggests that Americans are already deeply invested in the contest over who will challenge President Trump next year.

The total number of viewers was likely bigger: The Nielsen ratings released on Thursday measured those who watched the prime-time broadcast across NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo, but did not include the audience for online video and streaming services. NBC News, the host of this week’s debates, said more than nine million people had seen its livestream of the two-hour event, with an average watch time of 40 minutes.

Mr. Trump’s emergence on the political stage has coincided with a jump in television news viewership. Early in the 2016 race, the primary debates were relegated to cable news stations. This year, NBC agreed to broadcasts on two consecutive weeknights, pre-empting lucrative entertainment programming.

According to Nielsen, about 8.7 million people watched Wednesday’s debate on NBC, 5.9 million watched it on MSNBC, and about 719,000 watched the Spanish-language simulcast on Telemundo.

Viewers appeared to stick around even as the debate moved into the 10 p.m. hour on the East Coast and a technical problem forced NBC to temporarily cut to several minutes of commercials. On MSNBC, viewership for the latter half of the event dipped only 4 percent from the 9 p.m. hour.

Late-nights shows, which took the unusual step of airing live after the debate, benefited, too. Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show” on CBS notched 2.8 million viewers, beating a live episode of “The Tonight Show” on NBC, which drew only two million viewers despite a strong network lead-in.

The television audience for the debate fell short of Mr. Trump’s debut on the debate stage in August 2015, when 24 million people watched a Republican primary showcase hosted by Fox News. The viewership for that event remains a record for a cable news broadcast.

Still, the impressive numbers put up by NBC on Wednesday may be hard for the TV-minded president to ignore. Mr. Trump, who watched from Air Force One on his way to Japan, issued his own verdict on Twitter, pronouncing the event “BORING!” On Thursday, he had no immediate comment on the Nielsen figures.

Source: NYT

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