By Dawn Chmielewski, Helen Coster and Lisa Richwine
(Reuters) -The first U.S. Republican presidential primary debate for the 2024 election was viewed on Fox News on Wednesday night by 11.1 million people, according to the Nielsen ratings agency, falling well shy of the record set in 2015.
An additional 1.7 million people watched the prime-time debate on Fox Business Network, according to Fox, bringing the total audience to 12.8 million.
Eight of the top Republican presidential contenders took part in the forum. However, the debate lacked the audience draw of the candidate leading the field, former President Donald Trump, who did not participate.
Trump opted instead to sit for a pre-recorded interview with conservative commentator Tucker Carlson, which was posted Wednesday on X, formerly known as Twitter.
The 46-minute conversation with conservative commentator Tucker Carlson drew more than 74 million views, according to statistics on the platform.
It is unclear, however, how long visitors to the site watched the pre-recorded event. X view counts include anyone who scrolled past the video or watched for just a few seconds, as well as those who viewed the entire interview. Some viewers could be counted twice if they watched the video at different times or on different devices.
Wednesday's debate, which took place at the Fiserv Forum in downtown Milwaukee, drew fewer viewers than the 2015 Republican prime-time debate on Fox News, which, thanks to Trump's attention-grabbing style, attracted 24 million viewers.
However, the audience was slightly larger than the 12.5 million viewers who watched the Jan. 28, 2016, debate that Trump skipped, which also aired on Fox News. It also attracted more viewers than the Republican presidential primary debate that aired on March 10,2016, on CNN.
The eight participants were Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, former biotechnology investor and executive Vivek Ramaswamy, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, U.S. Senator Tim Scott, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum.
To qualify, candidates needed to have reached minimum thresholds in national or state-level opinion polls and received donations from at least 40,000 unique donors. They were also required to sign a pledge certifying that they would support the eventual Republican nominee.
The next Republican primary debate is scheduled to take place at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in September. Several more debates are likely, with an October face-off likely to occur in Alabama, according to a person familiar with the operations of the Republican National Committee, which ran Wednesday night's debate.
The first contest in the battle for the Republican nomination to take on Democratic President Joe Biden is the Iowa caucus, which will take place on Jan. 15, 2024.
(Reporting by Dawn Chmielewski and Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles and Helen Coster in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)