The first Republican primary debate of the new year drew about 11 million viewers Thursday night on Fox Business Network — high by historical standards for this time of the election cycle, but a smaller audience than any of the GOP debates earlier this season.
Nielsen estimates that an average audience of 11 million were watching during any minute from 9 to 11:30 p.m. ET, making it the the second most popular program of the night, behind only CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory” (15.5 million at 8 o’clock). This was down, though, from the network-record 13.5 million who watched the network’s first Republican debate two months ago.
It averaged about 3 million viewers in the key adults 25-54 demo, down from 3.9 million for the first FBN debate.
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The first two GOP debates last summer, driven largely by curiosity in unpredictable GOP front-runner Donald Trump, remain the most-watched: 24 million on Fox News Channel in August and 23.1 million on CNN in September. CNBC followed them with 14 million in October, and CNN drew 18.2 million for its second debate on Dec. 15. Four and eight years ago, comparable debates were drawing in the 5 million to 7 million range.
As it did with its first debate on Nov. 10, Fox Business worked with cable and satellite providers to “unbundle” the network to ensure that more subscribers would be able to watch.
Thursday’s debate from North Charleston, S.C., was the sixth GOP debate of this cycle and the first since mid-December. It came just a couple of weeks before the Iowa caucuses, which kickstarts the presidential balloting on Feb. 1. They will be followed by the first primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina.
The next Democratic debate is set for Sunday from Charleston, S.C. It will be broadcast live by NBC from 9 to 11 p.m. ET and then replayed on MSNBC starting at 11 p.m. ET.