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First 2020 primary debate breaks viewership records

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The second night of the first Democratic primary debate of the 2020 cycle broke records with 18.1 million people tuning in on live television across NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo, according to a press release from NBC.

Why it matters: Executives were expecting modest viewership for the first Democratic primary debates of the 2020 cycle, largely due to the fact that a single candidate has not emerged as the standout media star. But debate viewership on the second night of the 2-day event broke records for the most-watched Democratic primary debate in history.

Yes, but: The debate may have broken records for Democratic primary debates, but it didn’t beat overall primary debate records. Last cycle’s first Republican debate, which featured President Trump on stage as a political candidate for the first time, drew a whopping 24 million live viewers.

Be smart: Media coverage and social media buzz after the first night of debates may have driven viewers to tune in for night two.

  • Sound issues on NBC’s end, and a fiery spat between Texas contenders Rep. Beto O’Rourke and former HUD secretary Julian Castro, also drove media attention to the event.

By the numbers: The second night of the debate brought in 18% more household viewers than Wednesday's preliminary debate, which received 15.3 million views via live television.

  • The ratings are calculated by media measurement company Nielsen, which determines live household viewership of television programming for most major networks.
  • Millions more people watched the debate via streaming, although streaming numbers are hard to compare to television viewing numbers precisely.
  • NBC News said livestreams of both nights of the debate exceeded more than 9 million viewers.

The bottom line: Interest in the 2020 election is alive and well, according to television viewership numbers of the first Democratic debate; but it doesn’t look like this cycle will draw Trump-level mega-interest like the last presidential election.