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CNN Will Stream Tuesday’s GOP Debate for Free

Donald Trump and Jeb Bush at CNN’s Republican presidential debate in SeptemberDonald Trump and Jeb Bush at CNN’s Republican presidential debate in September
Donald Trump and Jeb Bush at CNN’s Republican presidential debate in SeptemberPhotograph by Max Whittaker — Bloomberg via Getty Images

Here we go again. On Tuesday, CNN will air the latest episode of this season’s blockbuster reality show—also known as the Republican primary debate. And, yes, Donald Trump is coming despite an earlier threat to stay away unless the network paid him $5 million to appear.

CNN will show the debate, which will take place in Las Vegas on December 15 starting at 8:30pm ET, on its namesake cable channel. The main event will feature Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and six other leading candidates, and will be preceded by an undercard event of also-rans.

And in a piece of good news for cord-cutters, the network will also show it to anyone with an Internet connection. Viewers will be able to stream it on CNN’s (TWX) website, and also on their mobile devices. No log-in or password required.

The latest GOP debate comes as the Republican contest remains deeply unsettled, and as party leaders openly acknowledge they may need an old-school convention (the last one was in 1976) to stop Donald Trump. Earlier debates have drawn record ratings and the controversy over Trump’s latest incendiary remarks may again lead large numbers of viewers to tune in.

This is the second time CNN has shown a GOP debate online for free, and its decision to do so again is interesting for two reasons. The first is it cuts against the views of some in the cable industry, who fear that free streaming undercuts their business model. According to a CNN spokesperson, however, the network believes showing the debate is a matter of public interest, and that the free stream can build its brand and be a showcase for the industry’s “TV everywhere” offerings. Contrast this approach to past debates hosted by Fox News and MSNBC, which required a pay TV password to watch.

The second interesting thing about the live stream is the tech necessary to pull it off. Even today, streaming to millions of people is hard to do, and only a handful of companies, such as MLB Advanced and Netflix, have proved they can reliably do it. (Fox News notably botched the livestream in an earlier debate; however, Fox Business fared better in a follow-up, reportedly streaming a record 1.4 million concurrent views).

According to Alex Wellen, CNN’s Chief Product Officer, the network handled over four million streams during the previous debate, including a point at which 1 million people streamed concurrently.

“There’s an art to scale up these events in a meaningful way. You want to give a pristine signal, and so you create redundancies, and optimize for every platform,” he said, predicting CNN will be able to smoothly stream Tuesday’s event.

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