23 million TV viewers watched Republican debate, a record for CNN

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

The stage is set at the Reagan Presidential Library on September 13, 2015, for the CNN Republican Presidential Candidate Debate. CNN's Jake Tapper will be the moderator for the debate from the Library on the 16th.

SIMI VALLEY, California¬†— Wednesday’s prime time GOP debate averaged 22.9 million viewers, making it the most-watched program in CNN’s history.

The 6 p.m. “undercard” debate drew 6.3 million viewers.

For comparison’s sake, CNN’s most-watched presidential primary debate before Wednesday was a Democratic debate on January 31, 2008. It had an average of 8.3 million viewers.

CNN’s most-watched program overall was a special “Larry King Live” episode in 1993. The episode featured Al Gore and Ross Perot debating NAFTA and averaged 16.8 million viewers.

Wednesday’s matchup easily surpassed that total.

These are NFL-level ratings — affirming that the Donald Trump fueled Republican debate slate is one of the most popular television shows of the year.

CNN’s debate was slightly lower-rated than Fox’s GOP face-off one month ago in Ohio.

That prime-time debate, the first of the season, averaged 24 million live viewers. Its earlier debate that day averaged 6.1 million.

What accounts for the difference? For one thing, Fox’s debate was two hours long while CNN’s was three hours.

From a campaign’s perspective, longer might have been better, because it gave candidates more time to talk and argue. It also gave CNN more time for commercial breaks.

But the length probably diminished the overall ratings. That’s because the ratings are an average of minute-by-minute viewership, so if viewers didn’t stay for the whole program, the average will be lower.

Hour-by-hour ratings may illuminate this viewer behavior later in the day.

But even the overnight ratings show that these GOP debates are drawing viewers who never bothered turning on a debate before.

Wednesday’s debate also set a live-streaming record for the network.

At the midway point of the debate, there were 921,000 concurrent users on CNN’s live stream, easily making it the most-watched web stream of a primary debate ever.