Democratic Debate Most-Watched Show in MSNBC History

MSNBC's telecast of Tuesday’s Democratic presidential primary debate became the most-watched program in the network’s 11-year history, drawing 7.8 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.

The debate in Cleveland, between Sens. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.), was moderated by NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, joined by Meet the Press moderator and NBC News Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert.

Last night's debate shattered MSNBC's previous total viewer high, the 3.7 million watchers on March 19, 2003, the start of the Iraq war.

The last of the planned Obama-Clinton square-offs was the third most-watched debate of this political cycle, trailing only the 9.4 million that tuned in ABC’s coverage of the Jan. 5 Democratic debate in New Hampshire and the 8.3 million that viewed the party’s forum from Los Angeles on CNN Jan. 31.

MSNBC’s coverage of the debate ranked fourth overall in TV last night in total viewers, trailing only Fox’s American Idol and Back To You in its 9 p.m. to 10:36 p.m. (ET) time period. The debate was the top-ranked cable program of the night among total viewers and adults 25 to 54, with the 3.24 million of those watchers also setting a network record.

WKYC simulcast the debate, along with NBC affiliates WLWT-TV in Cincinnati, WCMH-TV in Columbus, WNWO-TV in Toledo, WDTN-TV in Dayton, WLIO-TV in Lima, WTOV-TV in Steubenville, WFMJ-TV in Youngstown, and WHIZ-TV in Zanesville. The audiences for the local stations are included in MSNBC's national rating.

WKYC's broadcast of the debate in Cleveland drew a 26 metered market rating/35 share, besting American Idol by 44% in the market (18/24). The four metered market stations (Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton) averaged a 19.7 metered market rating/ 27 share.