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Fox News Republican debate smashes 2016 viewership record

DETROIT, MI - MARCH 03: People begin arriving at the Fox Theatre for the Republican presidential debate sponsored by Fox News on March 3, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan. Voters in Michigan will go to the polls March 8 for the State's primary. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Scott Olson, Getty Images

Thursday's Republican presidential debate, hosted by Fox News, shattered viewership records for any debate held in 2016 so far, according to early Nielsen ratings.

The Detroit debate drew in about 16.9 million viewers, the highest-rated debate this year. It also broke a previous debate record for 25-54 year-old adults, scoring 5.5 million viewers in that demographic group.

Those numbers, according to Fox News, make the debate the fourth most-watched primary debate in history. It trumped the previous GOP debate, which was simulcast by CNN and Telemundo and had an audience of 14.5 million people.

Last August, the first Republican primary debate, also hosted by Fox, saw the highest rated non-sports cable broadcast ever, drawing in about 24 million viewers. The Detroit debate was the network's second most-viewed in its nearly 20-year history.

On Thursday, viewers tuned in on the digital side as well. Fox News' debate livestream had 2.4 million video starts, according to their online analytics tools. That audience makes it the most-watched primary event via livestream so far.

The Republican candidates slung policy attacks -- as well as personal insults -- at one another Thursday night, making for a raucous broadcast. The showdown was also the first time Trump faced Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly since their ongoing feud led to Trump skipping the network's GOP debate in January.