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Tuesday’s debate was bound to be an especially curious one for cable news. Yes, audiences have been declining since August and September’s gargantuan hauls, but the last two GOP showdowns aired on networks with smaller core audiences and in fewer homes. So, as many expected, this fifth arena brawl among Republican frontrunners ranked somewhere in the middle.
Per Nielsen, the fifth GOP debate averaged 18 million total viewers for CNN, making it the third most-watched presidential primary debate ever. The debate was the second most-watched program in CNN’s history, following the network’s September GOP debate.
And while the ratings for Tuesday night’s showdown don’t match CNN’s first GOP face-off, or the high bar set by Fox News Channel in August, it proves that even with declining viewership, ratings for this debate cycle are still worlds ahead of those in recent memory. For those who don’t have the numbers (all records for their respective networks) seared into their brains, here’s how this debate stacks up against the first four:
August: 24 million (FNC)
September: 23 million (CNN)
October: 14 million (CNBC)
November: 13.5 million (FBN)
December: 18 million (CNN)
In the key news demo of adults 25-54, Tuesday night’s debate averaged 5.6 million viewers. CNN also reports that the event saw a total 3.1 million live streams on its website.
The comparisons to the last election remain staggering. A Dec. 15 GOP showdown in 2011 only averaged 6.7 million viewers and still ranked as the most-watched cable news telecast that year.
It’s a good sign for programmers still champing at the bit to put the Republicans (most notably Donald Trump) on live TV. Fox Business Network just announced another debate for January, the sixth of 11 planned. So we’re not even half-way to the end.
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Jamie Lee Curtis
Monday Night Football