TV Ratings: Ninth Democratic Debate Breaks Viewer Record for Party

Democratic presidential candidates_Democratic Debate 02-19-20 - Getty - H 2020
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The ninth debate of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary — and the first featuring former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg — delivered record viewership for a Democratic debate.

Nearly 20 million people watched the debate on NBC and MSNBC on Wednesday night. The 19.66 million viewers for the two-hour telecast breaks the previous Democratic primary record of 18.1 million by a sizable margin. The previous mark was set in June 2019 for night two of the first Democratic debate, carried by NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo. 

The debate also averaged 417,000 streaming viewers, bringing the total average audience just above 20 million. 

The broadcast also brought in 5.31 million viewers in the key news demographic of adults 25-54 — just ahead of the 5.3 million for the June debate — and 4.26 million in the 18-49 demo across the two networks. NBC had slightly more than 12 million viewers, while MSNBC's audience of 7.61 million was its third-largest ever behind a 2010 Olympic hockey game (8.2 million) and a 2008 Democratic primary debate between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton (7.7 million).

The record audience for a primary debate for either major party remains 24 million viewers on Fox News for the first Republican debate of the 2016 cycle.

Bloomberg, a late entry into the field who has already spent millions on campaign ads, was a prime target for the other candidates in his first debate appearance.

Elsewhere on Wednesday night, the series finale of Criminal Minds on CBS delivered the show's second-largest audience of the season. The two-hour finale averaged 5.4 million viewers and a 0.8 rating among adults 18-49, up from last week (3.95 million, 0.6) and just behind the season highs set Jan. 29 (5.88 million, 0.9). Survivor was the most-watched show outside of the debate with 7.16 million viewers and a 1.4 in the 18-49 demo, building on last week's premiere in both measures.

The Masked Singer (7.02 million viewers, 1.9 in 18-49) improved a little week to week on Fox, but Lego Masters (3.1 million, 1.0) declined. ABC's Modern Family declined from 0.9 to 0.7, but the rest of the network's lineup was steady. Howie Mandel's 5th Annual All-Star Comedy Gala drew a 0.1 on The CW.

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Feb. 20, 10:50 a.m. Updated with more complete ratings. A previous version of this story also mistakenly said the debate also aired on Telemundo.