Democratic presidential candidates U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (L) and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton debate duringthe first official Democratic candidates debate of the 2016 presidential campaign in Las Vegas, Nevada October 13, 2015.
Photograph by Lucy Nicholson — Reuters
By Tom Huddleston Jr.
October 14, 2015

Hillary Clinton was widely declared the winner of Tuesday night’s debate, but in terms of ratings, the Democrats lost to the GOP … and NCIS.

Hosted by CNN (TWX) and Facebook (FB), the first Democratic debate of the 2016 election season averaged 15.3 million total viewers, according to Nielsen’s numbers. That marked a new ratings record for Democratic debates, but it still fell well short of the GOP’s numbers.

The first GOP debate aired on Fox News (FOX) in August and pulled in a record-breaking 24 million viewers. Last month’s follow-up on CNN pulled in roughly 23 million, which was a record for CNN.

The Dems’ ratings also couldn’t top the 15.7 million viewers who tuned in to watch the fourth episode of the season for CBS (CBS) drama NCIS, starring actor Mark Harmon.

Of course, without the headline-grabbing antics of a candidate like Donald Trump, few people expected the Democrats to compete with the GOP’s ratings success. The media frenzy around the billionaire real estate mogul’s campaign drove millions to tune in to the first two GOP debates in large part to see what he might say next.

Not surprisingly, Trump joked earlier in the week that the Democratic debate would fall flat with television audiences while he promised to live-tweet what he predicted would be a “boring” event.

Also unsurprisingly, Trump’s social media presence grabbed plenty of attention Tuesday with the biggest tweet of the night.

The tweet netted 15,000 retweets and 23,000 favorites — which Trump also posted on Facebook to the tune of more than 100,000 likes and 23,000 shares.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders won the social media contest among Democrats, adding the most Facebook followers (35,000) last night. He was also the most-searched candidate on Google (GOOG).

Even CNN hedged its bets ahead of Tuesday’s debate. The network said earlier this week that viewership for the first two GOP debates “was an anomaly” and that the ratings success of last night’s event would be judged compared to past Democratic debates. And, indeed, by that metric, it was a rousing success, easily topping the previous record for most-watched Democratic debate set in 2008 when 10.7 million viewers tuned in to ABC to watch Clinton debate Barack Obama.

CNN’s modest goals for Tuesday’s debate may have been dampened by the unlikely appearance of Joe Biden. The network had said it would hold an open podium for the Vice President as long as he announced his candidacy anytime prior to the event. But Biden failed to materialize, and the field of Democratic candidates featured only one household name in Clinton. Sanders is making noise in the polls, but the rest of the party’s candidates have had trouble gaining any traction.

Tuesday’s Democratic debate did outpace the recent GOP contests in one regard: More people tuned in via the Internet than for the CNN-hosted Republican debate last month. CNN’s live feed peaked at roughly 980,000 concurrent streams, according to the network, topping the 921,000-stream peak from the most-recent Republican debate.

The next presidential primary debate will take place on Oct. 28, when CNBC hosts the Republican candidates, while the Democrats won’t face off again until Nov. 14, on CBS.


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