About 11.3 million people watched the debate via television and streaming, according to Nielsen TV ratings and CNN’s digital data.
This figure is the average viewership of every minute from start to finish, so the total reach of the two-hour debate was higher.
To manage a historically crowded field of candidates, CNN did the same thing NBC did for its debates in June — split the field into two nights. Part one aired on Tuesday and part two aired on Wednesday.
Wednesday’s debate — with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris at center stage — averaged 10.7 million total viewers via traditional TV, up from 8.7 million for Tuesday’s forum.
Both part one and part two out-rated everything else on TV on their respective nights.
The CNN debate ratings were markedly down from the NBC debates in June. But the peacock network had two big advantages: The opportunity to go first, tapping into months of building excitement about the 2020 election, and the ability to air the debates on the NBC and Telemundo broadcast networks and the MSNBC cable channel at the same time.
The trio of channels averaged 15.3 million viewers for part one and 18.1 million viewers for part two, beating industry-wide expectations.
On Wednesday CNN pointed out that its second night of debating “topped NBC’s night two broadcast performance.”
Nielsen ratings count people watching at home on TV sets in the United States. Out of home viewership is measured separately.
Both sets of debates were also live-streamed. CNN said 576,000 people live-streamed each minute of Wednesday’s debate on average, which is equivalent to the way TV ratings are estimated.
“Viewers spent an average of 93 minutes watching the day digitally, placing it among the top debate days ever for watch time,” the network said in a press release.
Overall CNN said there were 3.1 million live video starts on Wednesday, up from 2.8 million the day before.