CNBC Debate Rakes In 14 Million Viewers Despite Widespread Criticism

The event nonetheless fell far short of the debate audiences Fox News or CNN pulled in.
CNBC debate moderators Carl Quintanilla, Becky Quick and John Harwood
CNBC debate moderators Carl Quintanilla, Becky Quick and John Harwood

CNBC's widely criticized GOP debate -- in which the candidates sparred with moderators as much as each other -- earned the network the highest ratings in its 26-year history.

The debate drew an average of 14 million viewers, according to ratings agency Nielsen. The “undercard” debate earlier in the night featuring second-tier candidates drew a far less impressive 1.6 million viewers.

By comparison, Fox News’ GOP debate drew an astonishing 24 million viewerswhile CNN’s Republican debate garnered 22.6 million. The Democratic debate on CNN, meanwhile, brought in 15.3 million viewers.

CNBC's previous record was set during the Winter Olympics in 2002, when the network scored 3.9 million viewers.

While CNBC has called Wednesday’s forum a “hard-hitting debate that changed the course of the Republican primary,” the network has been roundly criticized by conservatives and liberals alike for asking impertinent questions, appearing caught off guard and unprepared, and asking “gotcha” questions. As The Huffington Post's Michael Calderone put it, “Media types, partisan and nonpartisan alike, seemed to agree the big loser was CNBC.

The network, however, seemed to make out well financially, charging a whopping $250,000 for each ad slot during the debate.

Gabriel Arana is senior media editor at The Huffington Post.