Democratic presidential hopefuls on the debate stage on Sept. 12, in Houston. Photo: Robyn Back/AFP/Getty Images

Early and unofficial Nielsen ratings on Thursday night's Democratic presidential primary debate well exceeded 10 million viewers, far above other programs on TV that night, CNN reports.

Why it matters: Though the official numbers are set to release Friday afternoon, the preliminary numbers show that interest in the primary process is higher than past primaries.

Context: The third Democratic primary debate ahead of the 2016 election averaged only 8 million total viewers, but ABC held that debate on a Saturday night, a traditionally low-viewing night for networks.

  • The first round of the debates in June averaged 16.7 million viewers over the 2 nights.
  • The second round in July on CNN averaged 9.7 million viewers over the 2 nights.

Of note: With an unofficial 11.4 household rating, Thursday's debate ranked just behind the record-setting night 2 of the June debate, which had 18.1 million viewers.

Between the lines: ABC's status as a broadcast network, Univision's involvement and all 10 of the top-polling candidates sharing the debate stage for the first time may have helped boost the numbers.

Yes, but: ABC may have had more viewers if it had not scheduled the debate on the same night as the NFL's Thursday Night Football.

Go deeper: The viral moments from last night's debate

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