“This will be the first time the Democratic candidates get in each others’ face,” the news network’s crawl stated. Visitors to the site were even encouraged to play “Debate Bingo.” You could have almost expected a “Tale of the Tape,” with stats on each candidate’s “reach.”
In the days leading up to the debate, there was plenty of chatter about an extra podium standing for Vice President Joe Biden, should he decide at the 11th hour to enter the ring. Well into the second hour of the debate, Broadcasting & Cable Washington Bureau Chief John Eggerton tweeted the suggestion that to liven things up, Biden should drop down from the roof like a “Cirque du Soleil acrobat.”
CNN’s promotional pyrotechnics were to be expected. The all-news network certainly did likewise for the second Republican debate, as did Fox News for the first faceoff between the GOP hopefuls. From a bottom-line perspective, the strategy worked well, with the first crowded Republican presidential battle garnering 25 million viewers on Fox News and the second, on CNN, 23 million.
The Democratic debate didn’t do as well — but actually much better than CNN had anticipated. An estimated 15.2 million viewers tuned in.
The big difference from the GOP debates — and he’d be the first to agree — is that the Dems didn’t have reality TV star Donald Trump on the stage. Even when he’s not around, The Donald is an attention-grabber.
Of those on stage in Vegas, Bernie Sanders might have been driving “real-time conversation” since he was mentioned in almost 410,000 tweets, according to Amobee Brand Intelligence. Meanwhile, The Donald, while not in attendance, still garnered nearly 169,000 tweets, said Amobee.
Despite the pre-debate hype, or perhaps to leaven it, CNN’s Anderson Cooper was mostly all business in refereeing… sorry, in moderating the proceedings, in what was primarily a substantive dialog between the Dem White House hopefuls. Even conservative media critic Brent Bozell had praise for Cooper and the network often derided by the right as the “Clinton News Network.”
Given that the main event was handled in a most professional manner, perhaps the pre-fight hype wasn’t such a bad thing. If the show inside the tent is an informative, important one, and the carnival barker approach means what happens in Vegas, reverberates way beyond Vegas, it’s a good thing.
But let’s stop pretending these big shows are anything less than the industry’s favorite ratings port in a storm: live events that people still consider DVR-proof. Need evidence? How long did it take someone in your Facebook feed to ask “who won” the proceedings?
That sound you hear is Floyd Mayweather sighing with envy.