Thursday’s DeSantis-Newsom TV Debate was a Ratings Winner for FOX News

The unusual one-on-one debate between Red and Blue State Governors Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and Gavin Newsom (D-CA), which aired live in an expanded edition of Sean Hannity’s prime time show on FOX News on Thursday, was a confirmed ratings success for the channel.

When the numbers came out on Friday, Nielsen Media Research, which has measured TV ratings since the 1950s, reported that FOX News’s live broadcast of the 90-minute debate at 9 PM EST blew away the competition on MSNBC and CNN. A total of 4.856 million adults watched the debate on FOX News (live and same-day delay), with 742,000 of them in the preferred demographic (ages 25-43). This beat the competition on CNN (a paltry 515,000 viewers) and MSNBC (1.197 million) at 9 PM. (Ratings available at TVNewser. Free registration required.) The first debate replay three hours later netted an additional 706,000 viewers for FOX News.

Interest in the “Great Red vs. Blue State Debate,” as it was called, from the post-debate analysis that followed also translated into a big win for FOX News in prime time and across the entire day.

The three other MSM cable news channels (plus the latest competitor NewsNation) focused a lot of their programming Thursday evening and Friday on video clips from, and analysis of, the debate, as did the mainstream print and online media.

L to R: Gov. Gavin Newsom, Sean Hannity, and Gov. Ron DeSantis are all smiles at the FOX News debate on Nov. 30, 2023. Photo courtesy of FOX News media relations.

Critics of FOX News on the conservative right—many of whom predicted the demise of the 26-year-old channel after it parted ways with its most popular host, Tucker Carlson, last April—may be surprised to learn that FOX News has continued to maintain its long time #1 position among the competition and that it boasts 18 of the top 20 programs on all three of the cable news channels, as well."

According to FOX News Media (in a November 29th news release emailed to this author that cited raw data from Nielsen Media Research):

During the week of November 20-26 [Thanksgiving week], FOX News Channel (FNC) led CNN and MSNBC combined with prime time viewers and once again defeated all of cable news in all categories. . . In terms of cable news share [with CNN and MSNBC], FNC commanded 49% of primetime viewership and 47% of total day viewership. The Five was once again the top show in cable news for the week, while Gutfeld! was tops in the 25-54 demo.

An article similar to the news release can be read online here.

As noted, FOX News often ranks as the first or second most-watched channel in all cable television—entertainment and news.

CNN has struggled to retain any significant relevance in light of the shrinking number of viewers attracted to cable news compared to past years. A good example is last Wednesday’s heavily-promoted launch of a new CNN prime time program, King Charles, hosted by popular figures Gayle King and Charles Barkley. Its 10 PM ET launch was a bomb. It was watched by only 501,000 total viewers—representing only about one-eighth of all the people watching FOX News, MSNBC, and CNN at that hour. FOX News, in comparison, logged 1.973 million viewers in the same time slot.

Anyone wishing to get into the weeds and peruse detailed cable news ratings can consult Adweek’s TV Newser site, which publishes them daily (free registration required).

A dirty little not-so-secret development, of course, is that cable television, while continuing to generate enormous profits, also continues to lose subscribers as more and more viewers “cut the cord” and turn to subscription or free streaming, especially on their smartphones. In the cable news realm, however, the three channels persist in maintaining significant influence in the arena of national and local politics. Their echo chamber effect in all media—broadcasting, print, and alternative media—has been well-documented.

A footnote about the content of Thursday’s debate, ably reported at American Thinker on Friday by Patricia McCarthy here, came to light later on Friday in an article at POLITICO, where it quickly moved to the most-read article at the entire site. Citing both on- and off-the-record sources, the POLITICO piece documents the Newsom camp’s numerous complaints about the debate—perhaps because the California governor was not universally declared the winner in the high-stakes contest with Gov. DeSantis.

Thursday’s raucous debate is giving way to bitter disappointment with and outright hostility toward Fox News and its host from the California Democrat’s camp.

Before Ron DeSantis could unveil his “poop map,” Gov. Gavin Newsom team’s frustration with Sean Hannity and his crew centered on his promises to them that he would be a fair moderator, only to repeatedly sandbag the governor and give the entire affair a 2-on-1 dynamic — as they saw it.

“The debate was rigged, and Newsom still won,” Newsom adviser Sean Clegg said.

Hmm. To quote the often-misquoted line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1604), “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

In a program alert for next week, Sean Hannity announced during his program Friday that he will be hosting his third “town hall” interview this year with President Trump on his show next Tuesday from Iowa. As Deadline reported in its article “Donald Trump To Do Fox News Town Hall The Night Before Next Republican Debate:”

Former President Donald Trump will take part in a Fox News town hall on Tuesday, one night before the next Republican debate that he is expected to skip.

Sean Hannity will host the pre-taped event, which will be held in Davenport, IA. . . The town hall will start at 9 p.m. ET.

Trump is expected to once again skip the next debate, to be held on Wednesday and hosted by NewsNation, the upstart cable news channel. The debate . . . will feature a much slimmed down field compared to the first gathering of the GOP candidates in August. Nikki Haley, DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy are likely to be on the stage, but it is unclear whether Chris Christie will qualify.

In fact, NewsNation will broadcast the fourth 2024 Republican candidates’ debate next Wednesday, December 6, live from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa at 8 PM EST.

NewsNation reports that “Elizabeth Vargas, the Peabody award-winning anchor of NewsNation’s “Elizabeth Vargas Reports,” Megyn Kelly, host of “The Megyn Kelly Show” on SiriusXM, and Eliana Johnson, editor-in-chief of The Washington Free Beacon, will moderate.” In addition, “The debate will be live-streamed on the NewsNation website beginning at 8 p.m. ET.”

It will also be simulcast live on the broadcast television network The CW.

(This essay has been lightly edited since being published.)

Peter Barry Chowka is a veteran journalist who has covered national politics and the politics and economics of health care, popular culture, and media for over five decades. He is a regular contributor to the BBC Radio and Television. His most recent interview on BBC Radio in the UK can be listened to here. His web page with links to his work is Peter’s extensive American Thinker archive: Peter’s Twitter account is @pchowka.

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