The early Nielsen data is in, and as one might expect, the audience figures for last night’s Republican presidential primary debate are down from prior debates.
Upstart cable news network NewsNation, which hosted the live two-hour primetime affair, brought in around 1.6 million viewers for its live broadcast of the debate, by far the largest audience in network’s relatively brief history; among adults 25-54, the debate was watched by more than 350,000 viewers on NewsNation.
Broadcast network The CW, which shares a parent with NewsNation (Nexstar Media Group, Inc.), averaged 2.62 million total viewers and 500,000 A25-54 viewers for its simulcast of the NewsNation debate — making the debate The CW’s most watched primetime telecast since 2018. Combining viewership for the NewsNation broadcast with The CW simulcast, roughly 4.2 million total viewers (850,000 A25-54) watched the linear broadcast of last night’s GOP debate, per Fast Nationals from Nielsen.
Preliminary digital data indicates that nearly 400,000 users livestreamed some portion of the debate via the NewsNation website or mobile app.
The aforementioned averages will likely increase once final Nielsen live plus same day data arrives later today.
NewsNation leadership is pleased with the results.
“NewsNation was incredibly honored to host last night’s debate, and we are very pleased that so many viewers tuned-in and watched,” Nexstar Media president of networks Sean Compton said in a statement. “This debate represents a remarkable achievement for a cable news network that is just barely three years old. We’re very proud of the NewsNation team, the great job done by the moderators, and the overall production. In the end, the real winners last night were the nation’s voters.”
How do these figures fare compare with those from prior 2024 GOP debates?
An average of 7.51 million total viewers watched the third and most recent Republican primary debate on Nov. 8 across NBC, NBC News Now, NBCNews.com, Peacock, Sky News, Universo, NoticiasTelemundo.com and Noticias Telemundo’s social platforms. Out of the 7.51 million, 6.86 million watched the proceedings on the NBC broadcast network.
Roughly 9.5 million people watched the second GOP debate of the 2024 election cycle (co-hosted by Fox Business and Univision) on Sept. 27 across Fox News Media and Univision linear and streaming platforms. Out of the 9.5 million total, 813,000 watched on Univision, 1.82 million watched on Fox Business, and 6.69 million watched the Fox News simulcast.
Previously, 12.8 million people watched the first debate of the 2024 election cycle across Fox News Media linear and streaming platforms on Aug. 23. Out of that 12.8 million, 11.09 million watched the Fox News debate on Fox News Channel, while 1.7 million watched the Fox Business simulcast — making it the most-watched non-sports telecast of 2023 to-date.
CNN hosted the fourth Democratic presidential primary debate of the 2020 presidential election cycle. That live broadcast aired on Oct. 15, 2019, and averaged 8.55 million total linear viewers, per Nielsen data.
Fox News still holds the presidential primary debate viewership record: 24 million watched the Republicans battle it out in August 2015. That was the first GOP debate of the 2016 election cycle, starring then-reality TV show host Donald Trump. That debate still stands as the most-watched non-sports cable program of all time, and Fox News’ most-watched program ever.
Reasons for a substantial drop-off in viewership last night may be four-fold: 1) NewsNation is a relatively young network which many Americans are still trying to find. 2) Debate fatigue. 3) NewsNation considers itself a “down the middle” outlet, and Conservatives/GOP voters are increasingly sticking exclusively to Fox News and other right-leaning media outlets for their TV news content. It’s why Fox News-hosted GOP primary debates have captured more viewers than GOP debates hosted by the broadcast networks over the past decade, despite the discrepancy in reach. 4) Tons of other TV viewing options, plain and simple.
Wednesday night’s debate was held at the University of Alabama, and co-moderated by NewsNation anchor Elizabeth Vargas, former Fox and NBC News-turned-SiriusXM/podcast host Megyn Kelly, and Washington Free Beacon EIC Eliana Johnson. Participants included Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Governor and ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, and business executive Vivek Ramaswamy.
CNN will host the fifth and sixth Republican presidential primary debates of the 2024 election cycle. They’ll be held on Jan. 10 in Iowa and Jan. 21 in New Hampshire.