12.5 Million Watch GOP Debate Without Donald Trump

By Chris Ariens 

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FoxNewsGOPDebateJanWithout the front-runner, Fox News Channel drew 12.5 million total viewers for last night’s GOP debate, the 6th most-watched of the seven GOP debates so far. The 2-hour debate, starting at 9 p.m. ET, drew 3.5 million in the A25-54 demo.

For Fox News, this marks its second-most watched program ever. The first was the August GOP debate which drew nearly twice as many viewers. But it also marked a bizarre first in which the leading candidate was not present for the debate, but, rather, across town at his own campaign rally, an event that was carried on C-SPAN, One America News, CNN, MSNBC and other networks.

CNN aired Trump’s remarks from 9:16-9:31 p.m. ET and returned at 9:34 p.m. when Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee joined Trump on stage. They’d just arrived from participating in the the earlier Fox News GOP debate. CNN’s Don Lemon filled out the 9 p.m. ET hour with the event, discussing it with pundits and covering the media angle, including FNC’s response to Trump’s claims about phone calls he’d received from Fox News earlier in the day. Lemon also continued into the 10 p.m. ET hour when the Trump event wrapped around 10:20 p.m.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow listened in to Trump from 9:16-9:32 p.m. ET, then continued on with her show–the remainder of which focused on Trump the candidate, rather than the event itself. Maddow closed her show with an update on the situation in Flint, Mich. At 10 p.m., Lawrence O’Donnell led with the Trump event which was still ongoing.

Here’s how the numbers broke down for this time period on the 3 leading news networks:

  • 9:15-9:30
    Fox News: 12.20 million viewers / 3.32 million A5-54
    CNN: 2.47 million viewers / 809,000 A25-54
    MSNBC: 1.36 million viewers / 298,000 A25-54
  • 9:15-10:15
    Fox News: 12.8 million viewers / 3.55 million A25-54
    CNN: 1.96 million viewers / 616,000 A25-54
    MSNBC: 1.14 million viewers / 260,000 A25-54
  • 9:00-11:00
    Fox News: 12.47 / 3.47 million A25-54
    CNN: 1.76 million viewers / 556,000 A25-54
    MSNBC: 1.03 million viewers / 234,000 A25-54

With more than 3.8 million viewers watching CNN and MSNBC during Trump’s event, that should give you a sense of how many were not tuned into Fox News’s debate. Still, Fox News won the night, and more than quadrupled the combined average of CNN and MSNBC for the debate time period.

By this time in the 2012 cycle, there had been 19 GOP debates, 5 on Fox News. The most-watched debate of 2012 drew 7.6 million on ABC on Dec. 10, 2011.

Here’s the 2016 debate ranker, which includes Nielsen viewership data, along with livestreaming information provided by the networks.

Debate Network Total Viewers A25-54 Streams
Aug. 6 | GOP Fox News 24,000,000 7,900,000 2,400000**
Sept. 16 | GOP CNN 22,940,000 6,900,000 4,500,000
Oct. 13 | Dem CNN 15,791,000 4,998,000 4,300,000
Oct. 28 | GOP CNBC 14,000,000 3,900,000 ***
Nov. 10 | GOP FBN 13,500,000 3,670,000 2,580,000
Nov. 14 | Dem CBS 8,500,000 2,120,000 1,200,000
Dec. 15 | GOP CNN 18,165,000 5,560,000 3,100,000
Dec. 19 | Dem ABC 7,850,000 1,928,000 ***
Jan. 14 | GOP FBN 11,094,000 2,983,000 1,165,000
Jan. 17 | Dem NBC 10,200,000 3,170,000 1,200,000
Jan. 28 | GOP Fox News 12,466,000 3,467,000 708,724
Feb. 11 | Dem PBS TBD TBD TBD
Mar. 9 | Dem Univision TBD TBD TBD

**Users needed to be an authenticated viewer to watch the livestream.
***ABC & CNBC have not shared their livestream data.