Fox News GOP primary debate smashes ratings records
Last night’s GOP debate on Fox News was the most watched primary debate in history, averaging a whopping 24 million viewers from 9 to just past 11 pm, according to data from Nielsen. 7.9 million of those viewers were in the cable news core demo of adults 25-54.
For comparison, the most watched primary debate in the 2012 election cycle averaged 7.63 million viewers on the broadcast network ABC Dec. 10, 2011. The most watched debate in the demo was the Jan. 23 debate on NBC, which averaged 2.59 million demo viewers. The previous record-holder on cable news was the Dec. 15, 2011 Fox News debate, which averaged 6.71 million total viewers, including 1.86 million demo viewers.
In other words, more viewers in the 25-54 demo watched the debate last night than total viewers did for any of the 2012 primary debates. The debate was the most watched non-sports telecast in cable TV history, and the most watched program in Fox News Channel's history as well.
The most watched primary debate in the 2008 cycle was the April 16, 2008 Democratic debate on ABC. That debate drew 10.7 million viewers
The 5 pm debate averaged 6.1 million viewers, a number more in line with primetime debates from previous election cycles.
The moderators of last night's debate, Megyn Kelly, Chris Wallace and Bret Baier were widely praised for their aggressive questioning of the 10 candidates on stage. The number of candidates, combined with the presence on the always unpredictable Donald Trump, made it “must-see TV.”
Update: The debate boosted all of Fox News Channel's lineup Thursday night. Megyn Kelly's show, which aired from 11:07 pm-12:30 am, averaged 10.9 million viewers, followed by Sean Hannity from 12:03 to 1 am, which averaged 4.17M. Bret Baier from 6:21 to 7:10 pm averaged 4.59M viewers. For comparison, the most watched show on CNN was "AC360" at 11 pm, which averaged 1.08M viewers, while a special "Hardball" at 8 pm led MSNBC with 1.17M viewers.
In a statement to POLITICO, Fox News CEO Roger Ailes “I think “I think that was the best political debate team ever put on television. Their performance was outstanding."
Earlier this week, a senior producer at a competing cable news channel predicted to POLITICO that the debate would bring in 10 million viewers. That figure ended up being conservative. A media buyer that often buys spots on cable news said their firm was expecting a number around six million.
In most cycles, the primary debate ratings start slow, and pick up steam as the pack of candidates narrow and finalists emerge. Just as Donald Trump threw a wrench of unpredictability into last night's debate, so he has for this cycle's TV ratings. As long as the field remains large, the ratings seem poised to do so as well.