As I alluded to in the last post, the winner of the first pre-primary presidential debate between Republican candidates was Fox News. Twenty four million viewers tuned in to watch the prime time event, reported by the WSJ.
About 24 million people tuned to Fox News on Thursday night to watch 10 Republican presidential candidates trade barbs in a two-hour prime-time debate, according to Nielsen, making it the most-watched nonsports event in cable-television history.
An additional six million viewers watched the six second-tier Republican candidates in a warm-up debate that aired before the main event.
Driven in large part by curiosity over how businessman Donald Trump would perform on a stage where he wasn’t the only one with a microphone, the prime-time debate attracted the ninth-largest prime-time cable audience ever.
The record for viewers on cable was this year’s college-football championship between Ohio State and Oregon, which drew 33.4 million.
For Fox News, the debate more than doubled its previous record for viewers, which was 11.8 million for its coverage of the 2012 president election.
The audience for the debate easily topped all the Republican debates of the 2012 race. The most-watched debate of that election cycle averaged 7.6 million viewers. The debate even came within 2.6 million viewers of beating the 1996 vice-presidential debate between Al Gore and Jack Kemp.
Fox News’s success offered a counterpoint in a week when a flurry of earnings reports by media companies underscored long-term threats to cable TV’s dual revenue streams—subscription fees and advertising. Many big media companies, including Fox News-parent21st Century Fox, are struggling with a mix of lower ratings, rising programming costs and “cord-cutting” by consumers.
The scale of the audience Fox News attracted is normally reserved only for sporting events such as college or professional football games, or big awards shows such as the Oscars.
The most-watched TV shows on broadcast television seldom crack the 20 million mark these days, and on cable only AMC Networks’ “The Walking Dead” typically averages more than 10 million viewers.
In terms of presidential debates, a 1980 debate between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan had more than 80 million viewers. That was in the days of three broadcast networks, all of which carried the event, and a much smaller dial of cable options.
The next Republican debate is scheduled for Sept. 16 on CNN.
The emergence of Mr. Trump, whose colorful if acerbic style has earned him pole position in the Republican campaign, created a broader interest in this debate than just hard-core political junkies.
Mr. Trump carried the night on social media with 836,388 tweets mentioning him Thursday night, far more than any other candidate, according to Amobee Brand Intelligence.
21st Century Fox and Wall Street Journal-owner News Corp were part of the same company until 2013.
One has to speculate on the nature of the relationship between Mr. Trump and the media moguls, the Murdochs, owners of the Fox empire. Trump admitted to contributing to any campaign where the candidate might potentially benefit Trump in the future. Did Trump cut a deal with Murdoch? Of course he did!