It turns out a lot of people didn’t need a cable subscription to watch one of the biggest cable events of the fall TV season. CNN attracted a record number of viewers late Wednesday with its free live stream of the second Republican primary debate. As of 9:40 p.m. ET, the service had nearly 1 million concurrent viewers, according to CNN’s Brian Stelter.
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) September 17, 2015
In offering the live stream to non-cable subscribers, CNN achieved its goal of attracting cable cord-cutters and cord-nevers to the much-anticipated debate, which included a number of fiery exchanges and heated moments between the 11 leading GOP hopefuls.
But some online viewers found themselves throwing up their hands -- and maybe throwing their iPads out the window -- when the stream experienced interruptions and delays. A number of social media users reported problems with the stream as the debate telecast got underway.
— James Houston (@jamesbhouston) September 17, 2015
— WaveFoundation (@WaveFoundation) September 17, 2015
— Paul DeMarco (@pmdemarco) September 17, 2015
— Jason Fuller (@BlueLightsShine) September 17, 2015
— Tyler O'Neil (@Tyler2ONeil) September 17, 2015
Crashes and service interruptions are not uncommon when large numbers of viewers converge on streaming events at the same time. No one knows that more than CNN’s parent company, Time Warner Inc., which has suffered through high-profile crashes during episodes of HBO’s popular series “Game of Thrones” last year.
Typically, CNN Go, the network’s over-the-top service, requires users to verify their pay-TV providers. Stelter said in a blog post Wednesday that nearly 80 percent of households already have access to CNN through a traditional cable or satellite service, but the he said debate had a level of public interest that warranted the freebee. CNN provided free online access to the event -- which took place at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library in Simi Valley, California -- allowing viewers to watch the fireworks on CNN.com even if they don’t have a cable subscription.
The televised brawl, which included some memorable heated exchanges between billionaire Donald Trump and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, is expected to bring CNN its largest audience in a long time. As a barometer of public interest, last month’s Republican debate on Fox News attracted a staggering 24 million viewers, a record for a cable telecast of a non-sports event.