(Bloomberg) -- About 12.8 million people watched the first Republican presidential primary debate of the 2024 election season, an event that competed with an online interview former President Donald Trump gave to Tucker Carlson.
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The viewer number includes those who watched on both the Fox News and Fox Business channels, according to a statement from the Fox Corp. networks. The company said it was the highest-rated, non-sports telecast on cable TV this year, topping 70% of the presidential primary debates over the last two election cycles. Market researcher Nielsen said 11.1 million watched on Fox News alone.
The debate, moderated by Fox News anchors Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, featured eight contenders including former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and current Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. The candidates sparred over topics including the economy, abortion and their own suitability for office, but largely avoided criticizing Trump.
Read more: Trump’s Frontrunner Status Is Untouched by GOP Debate
In 2015, when millions more people subscribed to cable-TV, a Republican primary debate on Fox News featuring Trump and nine other candidates drew 24 million viewers, the largest audience ever for a cable telecast other than sports. That debate featured a fiery exchange between Trump and then-Fox host Megyn Kelly. In 2019, more than 15 million people watched the first Democratic primary debate on NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo.
Fox executives and the Republican National Committee had encouraged Trump to participate this time around. But the former president has criticized Fox News for its coverage of his campaign and argued that appearing on stage with his lower-polling rivals would only give them a chance to attack him. Trump led his nearest challenger, DeSantis, by 39 percentage points in a Quinnipiac University poll released last week.
Instead Trump sat for an interview with Carlson, who was fired from Fox News earlier this year. Their conversation, which was taped in advance, streamed on X, the social network formerly known as Twitter that’s now owned by Elon Musk.
In the discussion, Trump said cable television is declining because it’s “lost credibility.” He also said it was a “terrible move” for Fox News to get rid of Carlson. The post containing the interview had more than 230 million views as of Thursday, although that number is not comparable to Nielsen ratings. Trump, in a post on his Truth Social site, said it was the “Biggest Video on Social Media, EVER,” without citing a source.
In recent months, Carlson has posted videos of his conversations with presidential candidates including Vivek Ramaswamy and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Carlson is in the process of raising money to start his own media company.
--With assistance from Hadriana Lowenkron.
(Adds Fox comment on ratings in second paragraph)
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