He truly really won’t be showing up for the GOP debate tonight on Fox News Channel, but Donald Trump still proved a ratings gift once again to the cable newser – at least last night. A heavily promoted interview on The O’Reilly Factor with the former Apprentice host and leading Republican POTUS candidate drew 3.79 million viewers and 642,000 adults 25-54. That made The Factor the most watched show on cable last night – topping even The Big Bang Theory repeat’s 3.1 million viewers.
Despite his best efforts, offers of milkshakes and an appeal to Trump to be the “bigger man,” O’Reilly couldn’t convince Trump to change his mind and join his fellow Republicans onstage tonight in Iowa. But it still was a win for O’Reilly and Fox News.
Compared with O’Reilly’s January 21 show, last night posted a 16% jump in total audience and 24% in news demo. Like last week, The Factor easily was the top news show of the night and in its 8 PM slot but now by a much wider margin. Last night’s Factor also was up 14% from the cable-topping 3.3 million that the show snagged on September 29, when O’Reilly had Trump on after the latter vowed never to do Fox News again.
Boycotting FNC’s broadcast of the last Republican debate before next week’s Iowa caucuses, Trump plans to hold his own veterans-benefiting event at 9 PM ET tonight. Trump has said repeatedly in the past few days — since the real estate billionaire declared he was skipping the debate due to moderator Megyn Kelly’s alleged bias and a “childishly written and taunting” press release from FNC — that his absence will not only hurt the cable news network in the ratings but in the wallet too:
The “debate” tonight will be a total disaster – low ratings with advertisers and advertising rates dropping like a rock. I hate to see this.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 28, 2016
Not so much, says FNC.
“The debate is completely sold out,” said a Fox News spokesperson on Thursday. “No rates have changed, and there are no advertisers who have backed out. Prices don’t change once the orders have been placed.”
With the exception of the 18.2 million who tuned in for the fifth debate December 15 on CNN, the GOP yakfest’s numbers have been on a fairly steady decline since the record-breaking 24 million who watch the very first one on August 6, 2015 – the same debate where Trump and Kelly butted heads for the first time. The most recent GOP gathering of January 15 on Fox Business Network pulled in the White House hopefuls’ lowest viewership yet with 11.094 million watching, and that was with Trump on the stage.
CNN, MSNBC and C-SPAN all have said that they plan to cover at least a portion of Trump’s event tonight, which will be at the exact same 9 PM ET time as the GOP debate on FNC.