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Fox News/Google GOP debate becomes most-watched of the year -- on TV and the Web

September 23, 2011 |  5:23 pm


The partnership between Fox News and Google/YouTube for the latest GOP presidential debate Thursday night proved very popular with both TV viewers and Web users.

Fox News racked up the largest ratings for a GOP debate yet this year, with 6.1 million total viewers, and 1.7 million in the target demographic: adults 25-54.

That's a big bump up in total viewers and in the advertiser-approved demo from the last debate, a partnership between CNN and the Tea Party Express on Sept. 12. That one gathered just under 3.2 million total viewers, and just over 1.1 million in the demographic.

The MSNBC/Politico debate at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley on Sept. 7 did 5.4 million viewers, but matched FNC in the demo, with 1.7.

Going back to the last FNC debate -- a partnership with the Washington Examiner -- in Ames, Iowa, on Aug. 11, that drew nearly 5.1 million viewers, with 1.4 in the demo.

To find the target demo dipping below 1 million, you need to go back to the....

...June 13 New Hampshire debate on CNN, which had about 3.2 million viewers and 918,000 in the demo; and to the very first GOP debate, aired on Fox News from South Carolina. that one had roughly 3.3 million wiewers, with only 854,000 in the demo.

As we noted last time we discussed ratings, the demo numbers vary in a much smaller range than the total viewers, perhaps representing a core audience of the population for all the debates.

So, one could interpret this to mean that, as the number of total viewers goes up or down a lot, the demo remains more stable and the change is primarily in younger or older viewers -- or both.

It also doesn't hurt Fox that a new Pew survey on news media had 19% of the public choosing Fox News as the top source of TV news, besting local news (16%) and CNN (15%).

But here's a general bit of good news for the news media at large: while Pew discovered people have negative feelings about the mainstream media, news organizations are still more trusted sources for information than government or business.

And, by the way, the least trusted source for information? You guessed it, candidates running for office themselves.

On the Web side, trends data also came in today from Google, tracking what people were searching for before and during the debate.

Among the trends were a sudden "Who's Gary Johnson?" flurry of queries that spiked throughout the evening ...


And this sudden surge of interest in Herman Cain's 9-9-9 economic plan ...


And in the battle of the books -- Mitt Romney's "No Apology" vs. Rick Perry's "Fed Up" -- it looks like the edge went to the former Massachusetts governor (or, giving a less kind spin, viewers suddenly realized Romney HAD a book).

We'll leave that interpretation up to you, but here's the tale of the graphs ...


The next debate is Oct. 11 at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. A partnership among Bloomberg, the Washington Post and WBIN-TV, it will air on Bloomberg Television.


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-- Kate O'Hare

Media critic Kate O’Hare is a regular Ticket contributor. She also blogs about TV at Hot Cuppa TV and is a frequent contributor at entertainment news site Zap2it. Also follow O'Hare on Twitter @KateOH.

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Photo: anchors Chris Wallace, Megyn Kelly and Bret Baier share a laugh at the Fox News/Google GOP debate; Google graphics of Gary Johnson, Herman Cain and Perry/Romney searches.  Credit: Fox News, Google Public Sector & Elections Lab