It was one of the most anticipated political face-offs ever and it looks like Fox News Channel’s GOP Debate last night was the most watched primary debate ever — Republican or Democrat. In fact, the two-hour debate was the biggest cable telecast ever and hence gave FNC all-time viewership and demo highs. With Donald Trump taking center stage among the 10 candidates picked for the big event in Cleveland, 24 million viewers tuned into watch the shenanigans on FNC from 9-11 PM ET. The cable news network had a huge 7.9 million viewers watching among the key 25-54 demo.
To give that some GOP context, the first Republican debate of the 2012 campaign drew 3.2 million viewers. Like last night’s battle royal, the debut debate of the last election was a year before the vote and was on Fox News. Last night’s GOP debate results are also a big lift from what FNC had last Thursday in the time period. With a 2.6 million lead-in from 8 PM’s The O’Reilly Factor, The Kelly File had 2.34 million viewers at 9 PM and Hannity drew 1.5 million at 10 PM.
While way bigger than expected, the numbers of Thursday’s broadcast co-hosted by FNC’s Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace were no real surprise. Earlier in the day metered-market ratings for the debate reveled a huge 16.0 result. The 2012 presidential primary debates averaged 4.5 MM ratings – but then again, they didn’t have the controversial and predictably unpredictable ex-Celebrity Apprentice host as the wolf in the hen house. Generally, top-rated FNC has around a 1.5 MM result on a weeknight. Comparing big-event apples to big-event apples – the USA winning final of the FIFA Women’s World Cup scored a 15.2 MM rating. That July 5 game in Vancouver ended up with 25.4 million viewers, a 7.9 rating among adults 18-49 and a household result of 12.9. Compared with the Closing Ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics, FNC and the GOP took the gold. The NBC broadcast of February 2014 had just 15.1 total million viewers.
GOP debates are scheduled for September 17 and October 28 on CNN and CNBC, respectively. The first debate for Hillary Clinton and the other Democrats is inked in for October 13 on CNN. Although he’s certain to be mentioned repeatedly, which Trump card will be played by the Donald’s political competitors?