CNN shattered records with last night’s Republican debate

September 17, 2015, 5:31 PM UTC
Republican presidential hopefuls retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson (L) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) listen, as real estate magnate Donald Trump speaks during the Republican presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California on September 16, 2015. Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump stepped into a campaign hornet's nest as his rivals collectively turned their sights on the billionaire in the party's second debate of the 2016 presidential race. AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Photograph by Frederic J. Brown — AFP/Getty Images

Wednesday night’s Republican debate was a record-breaker for CNN.

On Thursday, CNN reported a preliminary Nielsen rating of 14.7 for the event, which means 1 in 7 American households watched the show, and the network is calling these audience figures “NFL-level ratings.”

These are just estimates, of course, and they will likely be adjusted by the time the final figures are released, but CNN estimates the final tally could be about 20 million viewers. This doesn’t beat out Fox’s viewer numbers for the first GOP debate, which received a record-breaking 24 million viewers, but it shatters CNN’s own records.

Before this, the most viewers the network received for a presidential debate was in 2008 with 8.3 million. Its most watched television program in the network’s history was a 1993 episode of Larry King Live during which Al Gore and Ross Perot debated NAFTA, which was watched by 16.8 million people.

CNN also set a record for live streaming with 921,000 simultaneous viewers at the halfway point of the debate (9:45 p.m.). CNN Money writes that it was “by far the biggest audience a primary debate has had on the Internet,” likely helped by the fact that this was the first debate to be live streamed for free.

It was a particularly interesting debate to watch, considering the two leading candidates, Donald Trump and Ben Carson, could not have more different dispositions. Carly Fiorina, who fought hard to be included in Wednesday night’s debate, had no problem grabbing some of the spotlight for herself.

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