Fox Business Network's Republican presidential debate was watched by an average of 13.5 million viewers on Tuesday, slightly below the audience for its competitor CNBC's much-maligned event two weeks ago.
As expected, the audience was a record high for Fox Business Network, a business and finance cable news channel that has never exclusively carried such a high-profile forum since its launch by 21st Century Fox (then News Corp.) in 2007. Though the more-established CNBC scored a larger audience for its debate -- 14 million on Oct. 28 -- the NBCUniversal-owned channel is also available in 93 million cable and satellite homes, compared with Fox Business Network's 82 million.
The debate moderators -- Fox Business Network anchors Maria Bartiromo and Neil Cavuto and Wall Street Journal Editor in Chief Gerard Baker -- received generally positive reviews for what was seen as their civil approach. It was a sharp contrast to the criticism aimed at CNBC's team for the harsh tone of questioning, giving the candidates an excuse to bash the media and avoid substantive answers.
"The debate last night was excellent and showcased FBN as a world class financial network," Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes said in a memo to his staff. "Every one of our team leaders accomplished our goal of presenting a serious, meaningful debate while holding the audience. Our debate hosts/moderators all did a phenomenal job."
Ratings data from Nielsen indicate that the Republican debates continue to be a strong draw among viewers. All four of the GOP face-offs -- as well as the Democrats' meeting on CNN -- have attracted larger audiences than similar events in previous presidential election cycles.
Republican primary debates for the 2016 presidential contest are now the highest-rated programs in the history of Fox News Channel (24 million on Aug. 6,), CNN (22.9 million on Sept. 16), CNBC and Fox Business Network.
Fox Business Network's earlier GOP debate, with the four candidates who did not make a previously arranged level in poll standings to qualify for the main event, averaged 4.7 million viewers from 7 p.m.-8:15 p.m. EST. The debate, moderated by Fox's Sandra Smith and Trish Regan and the Journal's Gerald Seib, topped the audience for CNBC's early round by 188%.
Fox Business Network made the debate available for free on its website. The live stream peaked at 1.4 million users at 10:15 p.m. EST. The figure topped the 1.3 million user peak that occurred during NBC's live stream of the Super Bowl in February.