The Facebook/Fox News partnership for the first GOP debate of the 2016 presidential campaign season had the highest audience for any non-sports cable program, and was most-watched cable news program in history.
The artful coalescing of TV, cable and social media strengths has just revolutionized media economics. Throw in real estate magnate billionaire Donald Trump–the GOP frontrunner, and a reality TV star with near-universal name recognition (certainly higher than any of his competitors)—being center stage and the target of high-profile aggressive (and, as some have argued, unfair) questioning, and this debate was a massive success for the number-one-rated cable news network in terms of ratings.
The two-hour main Republican debate drew an audience of 24 million people. The market share was a stunning 16 and the audience included 7.9 million in the 25-54 year old demographic that advertisers crave. Nearly 11 million tuned in for post-debate analysis anchored by Megyn Kelly, another all-time-record for Fox News.
The “undercard debate” of seven lower-tier candidates also did very well for Fox News by drawing 6.1 million total viewers and 1.2 million in the 25-54 demographic, making it the third-highest audience for a primary debate in the history of cable news.
For comparison to the 2008 cycle: the first GOP debate on Oct. 9, 2007, simulcast on MSNBC and CNBC, drew a combined 2.141 million viewers; the most-watched GOP debate of that cycle was Jan. 5, 2008 on ABC with 7.4 million viewers and a market share of 5. That compares to the Democrats’ highest 2008 debate market share of a 10.