TV Ratings: GOP Debate Soars, Brings Fox News a Record 24M Viewers

Donald Trump, GOP Debate - H 2015
AP Images

Donald Trump, GOP Debate - H 2015

The 10-man showdown blows previous cable news records out of the water, even topping coverage of the Sochi Winter Olympics.

It should come as no surprise that Thursday's GOP debate, the first in the run up to the 2016 Presidential Election primaries, was a huge draw on Fox News Channel — though it proved an even bigger than many might have expected.

No doubt buoyed by the media circus around candidate Donald Trump, and the fact that hopeful's declarations for the 2016 race trickled in considerably later than the 2012 contest, a massive 24 million viewers tuned into Fox News between 9 and 11 p.m. ET. That easily makes it the most-watched cable news telecast in history. It also tops most marquee TV events, besting even coverage of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

Among the targeted demographic of adults 25-54, it averaged nearly 8 million viewers — another cable news record. FNC had tapped Megyn Kelly, Bret Baier and Chris Wallace as moderators.

For a quick comparison of what a surge this is compared to the last election, the first Republican primary debate in 2011 drew a meager 3.2 million viewers to FNC. And its coverage of the final 2012 presidential debate between President Barack Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney reached 11.5 million viewers.

Early returns from the major markets had the debate bringing a huge audience but not many would have predicted it raking in quite so many viewers. It seems fittingly commensurate with the number of participants in the debate. FNC tapped the top 10 polling Republican hopefuls — Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Chris Christie and John Kasich — for the debate.

Those who didn't make the cut got their own showcase at 5 p.m. ET, hosted by Bill Hemmer and Martha MacCallum, which averaged an exceptional 6.1 million viewers and 1.2 million viewers adults 25-54. The third most-watched debate in network history, it shows that interest in the field is not entirely Trump-centric.

The next GOP debate, which will air on CNN, is slated for Sept. 16. The first debate for Democrat hopefuls isn't planned until Oct. 13.