The Republican debate season is in full swing and based on the ratings to date it’s no wonder network executives are tripping over themselves to sponsor more.
Just four years ago the debates got off to a much slower start and didn’t cross the 3 million viewer threshold until September compared to this year where all the measured debates have been attracting a minimum of 3 million and more often considerably more. The exception to this is the recent Bloomberg/Washington Post debate for which the figures would be estimates at best since Bloomberg doesn’t subscribe to the Nielsen rating service.
In short the debates have been a rousing success for the networks with the MSNBC debate at the Reagan Library attracting 5.4 million viewers which s more than six times what O’Donnell, Maddow and Schultz average on any given night.
But as high as those numbers were the next debate on Fox News did even better averaging 6.1 million viewers or about double the audience their top newsmaker Bill O’Reilly attracts each night.
The last debate sponsored by CNN dropped off a bit averaging “only” 5.5. million viewers but an improvement over the debate they sponsored with the Tea Party in September that drew 3.6 million viewers and caused a howl in the liberal media who thought that partnering with the Tea Party was a bad idea.
Even though the ratings are high from the debates, the profits are low as there are fewer commercial breaks than during their normal primetime programming. But that doesn’t seem to bother cable television news executives who see a chance to gain some credibility and maybe attract more viewers in the future as a result of their debate coverage.
It isn’t clear why the debates this year have attracted so many more viewers than in 2007 but speculation runs from the fact that the field is so unsettled and has more interesting candidates than four years ago to the lack of Democratic debates which are attracting additional viewers as they size up Obama’s potential competition.
Another potential factor may be the inclusion of social media into the debates with questions being submitted to the candidates via YouTube and Twitter which resulted in thousands of submissions boosting interest.
Whatever the reason may be for the higher than normal ratings ,they have provided a brief ray of sunshine for MSNBC and CNN in an otherwise gloomy ratings battle against runaway leader Fox News.
And we only have twelve more to go.