11 million watch Trump and Cruz spar on Fox Business Network's GOP primary debate

 11 million watch Trump and Cruz spar on Fox Business Network's GOP primary debate
Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump, left, and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas at the primary debate held in South Carolina and shown on Fox Business Network. (Scott Olson / Getty Images)

Fox Business Network's Republican primary debate was watched by an average of 11 million viewers on Thursday, the smallest audience of the six GOP candidate showdowns held so far.

The figure from Nielsen is down 2.5 million viewers from the first FBN debate on Nov. 10, which pulled a record high 13.5 million viewers for the cable network. It's less than half of the largest debate audience of the 2016 presidential campaign when the Republicans' first meeting pulled in 24 million viewers for Fox News Channel on Aug. 6 and significantly below the last GOP debate on CNN, which had 18 million viewers on Dec. 15.

FBN's audience was still substantial compared to previous primary seasons. The largest audience for a Republican primary debate in the 2012 cycle was 7.6 million.

The large audiences for the 2016-primary debates have been attributed to the presence of front-runner Donald Trump, whose celebrity status has drawn viewers who might not have been engaged in the party nomination process. Although Trump remains the leader in the polls and a contender to become the Republican standard bearer in the 2016 race for the White House, his involvement is no longer a novelty that brings in casual viewers.

On Thursday, Trump's confrontations with his chief rival, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, provided some of the most memorable debate fireworks yet in the campaign season. But more of the audience tuning into the debates will be Republican voters still looking to decide on a candidate.

FBN has the smallest reach of any of the networks carrying the Republican debates, with 82 million cable and satellite homes. The network is still new to many of those homes as many carriage deals have taken effect just in the past year.

The network's online stream of the debate, made available for free over FoxBusiness.com, peaked with 1.16 million concurrent users.

The debate from North Charleston, S.C., was moderated by FBN anchors Neil Cavuto and Maria Bartiromo.