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First Republican debate on Fox News pulls in 12.8 million viewers

The two-hour event was simulcast on Fox Business Network and streamed for free on Rumble.

The two-hour event was simulcast on Fox Business Network and streamed for free on Rumble.

The first Republican primary debate of the 2024 presidential election cycle pulled in more than 12.8 million overall viewers to the Fox News Channel on Thursday, despite the party’s front-runner and presumptive nominee not showing up to the event.

The debate, held Wednesday evening in Milwaukee, was simulcast on Fox Business Network and streamed for free on Rumble, the latter made possible through an arrangement with the Republican National Committee, which selected the upstart streaming platform as its exclusive digital partner. The event was also streamed on Fox Nation, the direct-to-consumer streaming service operated by Fox News Media, and on various Fox News websites.

The event pulled in the strongest ratings of the evening, topping all programs aired on ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC in prime-time. It also overtook re-runs of Paramount Network’s hit series “Yellowstone,” which averaged 8.2 million viewers, according to Nielsen ratings.

Fox News hosts Martha MacCallum (left) and Bret Baier moderate the first Republican primary debate of the 2024 election cycle in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Courtesy photo)
Fox News hosts Martha MacCallum (left) and Bret Baier moderate the first Republican primary debate of the 2024 election cycle in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Courtesy photo)

The highest concentration of viewers for the debate was on Fox News, which drew an audience of 11.1 million, including 2.4 million viewers in the key demographic of adults ages 25 to 54 that is favored among traditional television advertisers.

The debate helped secure Fox News’ win for the evening, with MSNBC grabbing just 1.7 million viewers during the hours of 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. Eastern Time, and CNN logging a paltry 754,000 viewers.

On Fox Business Network, more than 1.7 million viewers tuned in, including an audience of 401,000 in the key advertiser demographic. The simulcast, which included the pre-debate broadcast of “Jesse Watters Primetime” and some post-debate coverage, helped Fox Business Network top CNBC in prime-time ratings.

Fox News Digital also logged wins during the day, with more than 125 million views to various videos and live streams on the Fox News website and related digital properties, according to data from Adobe Analytics. During the debate, Fox News Digital logged more than 20 million views, with each user spending an average of 30 minutes watching the debate stream.

On Thursday, Fox News Media executives congratulated employees at the network for their debate night win, according to a memo circulated among staffers and obtained by The Desk.

“Everyone’s immeasurable hard work over the last several months was on display throughout every facet of the phenomenal production, and we are extremely proud of the staff who made everything possible down to the smallest of details,” Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott and Group President and Executive Editor Jay Wallace said in the note.

The executives praised the moderating team of Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, who “did a fantastic job and made Fox News Media shine on every level.”

“Last night was one of the many reasons why ew are the best team in the business,” the memo concluded.

The ratings data showed viewers were willing to tune in to hear what prospective Republican candidates had to say, despite the fact that the presumed nominee, Donald Trump, did not show up.

Instead, Trump appeared in a 45-minute video posted to Twitter (X) by former Fox News personality Tucker Carlson, who taped an interview with the former president earlier in the week. The video was released five minutes prior to the start of the debate on the Fox cable channels.

Former Fox News Channel commentator Tucker Carlson appears at a Turning Point USA event in 2018. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/File)

The video had more than 240 million Twitter “impressions” by Thursday evening, though the figure also includes people who scrolled past the video in their home screens. The actual number of people who watched all or a substantial portion of the interview was not immediately available, though it is likely a fraction of the forward-facing data Twitter (X) reports on its website.

Around 700,000 accounts had “liked” the Carlson-Trump interview by Thursday evening, and another 200,000 had re-shared it with their own followers, according to data co-located with the video on the platform. That data could be artificially inflated due to the presence of robots on Twitter (X), which sometimes automatically like or re-share content in an attempt to make it more visible or suggest it has gone “viral.”

The actual number of people who watched any or all of Carlson’s interview with Trump is likely to be a mere fraction of the audience who tuned in for the debate on Fox News, because Twitter (X) doesn’t allow members of the public to view content on its platform unless they have an active account and are logged in. By contrast, Fox News streamed the Republican debate on their website, and it was freely available on Rumble as well, making the debate easier to access without any additional hurdles.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).