The Fox News Republican debate on Wednesday night surpassed ratings expectations for an event that was missing the biggest audience draw of Republican politics: former President Donald Trump.
Featuring eight candidates polling far behind Trump, the first debate of the 2024 campaign drew a solid 12.8 million viewers across Fox News and Fox Business. While those numbers didn’t come close to Fox’s record-breaking 2015 debate, they were far higher than what Fox News executives were hoping for. After all, 2016 was a ratings supernova, and cord-cutting has only exacerbated in the years since.
Instead of attending the debate, Trump opted for a buzzy bit of counter-programming: a 46-minute interview with erstwhile Fox News host Tucker Carlson, which dropped on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, five minutes before the start of the show in Milwaukee.
As is tradition now when Carlson drops a new interview on Twitter, his boosters boasted of astronomical viewership. As of writing, Twitter lists the Tucker-Trump confab as having a whopping 253 million “views.”
“231,000,000 Views, and still counting,” Trump crowed on his social media platform Thursday. “The Biggest Video on Social Media, EVER, more than double the Super Bowl!”
Trump also promoted a piece from a right-wing blog claiming “Trump’s Tucker Interview The Most Watched Interview EVER, Beating Oprah & Michael Jackson.”
The Daily Mail reported: “The Fox-hosted Republican primary debate was easily bested by the person who wasn’t there, Donald Trump, as the former president’s interview with Tucker Carlson on X easily saw more eyeballs.”
All of these grand claims are based on the Twitter “views” metric. But as we’ve reported here previously, Twitter views are all but meaningless.
After Elon Musk took over Twitter, he hid the “video view” metric, which showed how many people watched a video on Twitter. Even the video view metric was pretty flimsy: according to Twitter: if you watch a video for two seconds, with only half the video player in view, you count as one video view.
The tweet view metric — that’s the 253 million number Trump and his allies are touting — is even less valuable. It merely counts how many people viewed the tweet. So if you scrolled past Carlson’s video on Twitter, you counted as one of the 253 million. “Anyone who is logged into Twitter who views a Tweet counts as a view,” Twitter says. If you scrolled past the tweet multiple times, you counted more than once.
The Hollywood Reporter pointed out that the Twitter views were being overplayed in a piece published Thursday (emphasis mine): “As of publication time, the interview had 235.2 million views on the platform — with a ‘view’ counting as two seconds. Applying the two-second standard to the debate, it had the equivalent of 46.8 billion views.”
But even that overplays how many people watched the Trump-Tucker interview. THR’s calculations are incorrectly done with the video view metric, not the tweet view metric.
While X does not publicly disclose video views, Mashable reported that as of Thursday, 14.8 million people had watched at least 2 seconds of the Trump interview. A small fraction of that 14.8 million will have watched any significant amount of the 46-minute video.
Which means the Trump interview was seen by far fewer people than the Fox News debate.
The Fox debate drew 12.8 million viewers, according to Nielsen. But that metric measures the average concurrent viewers of a program. The total viewership of the debate is many millions more.
As Steve Hasker, the former president of Nielsen who now serves as CEO of Thomson Reuters explained in 2015: “In TV, the standard measurement unit for viewership is the average-minute audience — how many viewers there are in an average minute of content. In the digital space, on the other hand, video measurement is commonly expressed as the gross number of times the video is viewed, even if only for one minute or one second. These two metrics are quite different, and comparing one to the other unfairly tilts the comparison against TV.”
Nielsen does have a metric to measure total audience, called cumulative viewership. As Brian Stelter noted in the New York Times, Fox News drew a total audience of 63 million in the first quarter of 2023. CNN drew 68 million.
So no, the Trump-Tucker interview was not the most watched interview of all time. It wasn’t even watched by more people than the Fox News debate, which drew relatively modest ratings compared to previous primary debates.
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