TV Ratings: Fox News' GOP Debate Surges to 2016 High, 16.9 Million Viewers

The debate is the most watched since December, rising nearly 2.5 million viewers from the previous week's.

Donald Trump returned to the Fox News Channel stage on Thursday night, appearing at the Republican Party's 11th (that's right, 11th) debate of this presidential campaign. And it easily ranks as the highest-rated in nearly three months.

The two-hour event averaged 16.9 million viewers for the cable news network, 5.5 million of them adults 25-54. The last debate to approach those numbers was on Dec. 15, when the playing field of candidates was much more crowded. Compared to the most recent GOP debate, Thursday's marked an audience spike of nearly 2.5 million.

Overnight returns gave the FNC debate an 11.5 rating among Nielsen's metered-market households. That was up more than 15 percent from the 9.9 rating that the last GOP debate grossed between CNN and Telemundo. All told, that debate averaged 14.5 million viewers, making it the most watched of the year at the time. (On CNN alone, the debate pulled a 9.0 in households and 12.6 million viewers.)

Thursday marked the first time Trump and FNC host and debate moderator Megyn Kelly have shared screen time since butting heads at the first GOP debate on Aug. 6. Trump's public issues with the Kelly File host, stemming from her pushing him on his past remarks about women, was one of the reasons cited for his skipping the last Fox debate in January.

FNC still holds the record for the most watched debate: the first, which raked in a record 24 million viewers. The March 3 debate did break one record, however, fetching 2.4 million video starts and peaking around 1.5 million — making it the most steamed debate of the cycle, per Omniture and Akamai.

See below for a complete rundown of debate audiences to date.

RNC

Aug. 6 — 24 million  (FNC)
Sept. 16 — 23 million (CNN)
Oct. 28 — 14 million (CNBC)
Nov. 10 — 13.5 million (FBN)
Dec. 15 — 18.2 million (CNN)
Jan. 14 — 11.1 million (FBN)
Jan. 28 — 12.5 million (FNC)
Feb. 6 — 13.2 million (ABC)
Feb. 13 — 13.5 million (CBS)
Feb. 25 — 14.5 million (CNN/Telemundo)

DNC

Oct. 13 — 15.8 million (CNN)
Nov. 14 — 8.6 million (CBS)
Dec. 19 — 8 million (ABC)
Jan. 17 — 10.2 million (NBC)
Feb. 4 — 4.5 million (MSNBC)
Feb. 11 — 8.0 million (PBS/CNN)

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