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Fox News hits 12.8 million viewers for first Republican debate in 2023

Even without the top contender, Donald Trump, an estimated 12.8 million people watched the first Republican presidential primary debate on two Fox News television channels and streaming services.

There seemed to be little evidence that Trump’s attempt to counter-program the debate by appearing in an online interview with Tucker Carlson around the same time Wednesday had significantly impacted the number of people interested in examining the eight alternatives.

The Nielsen company said just over half of the 24 million people who watched Trump attend the first presidential debate in August 2015 were in the audience. However, this debate, which surpassed the GOP candidates debate on Fox in January 2016, was one that Trump also skipped and was watched by 12.5 million people.

Television is a very different world than it was eight years ago, when streaming was more established and thousands of cable customers cut the cord. The most-watched program on live or cable TV last week was the repeat of “60 Minutes”, which reached 5.3 million viewers on CBS.

While former Fox host Carlson boasted that Wednesday’s online interview would reach a “far wider” audience than the televised debate – and although Trump claims the interview surpassed the Super Bowl in terms of audience – there’s no reliable way to control that.

Social media company X, formerly known as Twitter, said on Thursday afternoon that the tweet on Carlson’s interview program had received 236.7 million views. But that’s the number of times someone swiped Carlson’s interview with Trump on their stream, even if they didn’t open the post to see what was said.

If you swipe the post a dozen different times, that counts as a dozen views.

There were fewer public engagements: The interview had around 55,000 comments and nearly 200,000 people said they liked it.

Television viewing is an estimate of how many people watch the discussion in any given minute. The discussion was broadcast simultaneously on Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network.

The two-hour discussion, moderated by Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, barely mentioned Trump halfway through. Baier then said he wanted to take a short while to talk about the “elephant who wasn’t in the room,” namely Trump and his four criminal charges.

The reluctance to talk about the topic was evident, but the 10 minutes of discussion included some of the more exciting moments of the discussion.

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