The four videos that Tucker Carlson has uploaded to Twitter since he was fired from Fox News have drawn intense interest from people in the overlapping worlds of media, tech and politics. The million-dollar question: Can the firebrand conservative commentator cultivate a devoted following on a brand-new platform?
Twitter does not disclose information about the number of people who watch videos on the platform, making it difficult to discern the size of the viewing audience for Carlson’s incendiary straight-to-the-camera monologues about topics like the federal indictment of former President Donald Trump and the war in Ukraine.
But data shared exclusively with NBC News this week offers a window into how Carlson’s videos are performing on Twitter since he and his production team started posting them on June 6, just 43 days after Fox News announced that it had agreed to “part ways” with the host of the most popular primetime show on the network.
The first episode of "Tucker on Twitter," a roughly 10-minute monologue in which Carlson asserted without evidence that Ukrainian forces attacked a dam in Russian-controlled territory, netted roughly 26 million video views, according to statistics shared by Tubular Labs, a third-party media analytics firm that has access to the platform’s developer tools and contracts with other major internet platforms, including Facebook and YouTube.
The second episode, a more than 12-minute monologue in which Carlson appeared to suggest that the threat of American white supremacy has been overstated, received 13.2 million video views. The video views for the third episode, released hours after Trump was arraigned in a Miami courtroom, improved over the second installment, netting 18.7 million, according to the statistics.
The numbers shared by Tubular Labs are not publicly available. The “views” metric that appears under most videos on Twitter refers to the approximate number of users who saw the tweet while scrolling through their timelines — not the number of people who pressed play and started watching.
In fact, Twitter owner Elon Musk’s team appears to have recently removed the real-time tally of video views that used to be a staple of the platform.
Justin Wells, Carlson’s executive producer, did not immediately reply to an email on Thursday seeking more data on the “Tucker on Twitter” videos, including metrics such as video starts, retention rates (the average amount of time a user spends watching a video, calculated as a percentage point), completion rates and total minutes viewed.
Twitter’s press office did not immediately respond to emails seeking information about the metrics and requesting comment on the Tubular Labs data. NBC News received two emails with the Musk-era Twitter press team’s default reply: the “poop” emoji.
A spokesperson for Carlson could not immediately be reached for comment.
The insights come at a pivotal time for Carlson, who established himself as one of the leading voices in the Trump-era conservative movement while at Fox News and must now start fresh on Twitter, a much more crowded platform that may not be as familiar to the older viewers who make up a core part of Fox’s audience, according to Reece Peck, an associate professor in the department of media culture at the City University of New York who studies news.
Carlson is also facing stern legal warnings from Fox News. The company sent him a cease-and-desist letter this week demanding that he stop posting videos to Twitter because he is still under contract at the network. Carlson’s lawyers have argued that the network cannot infringe on his First Amendment rights.
Meanwhile, Musk and Twitter’s newly installed CEO, Linda Yaccarino, are attempting to pitch the platform as a welcome home to other well-known television news broadcasters, including Don Lemon (who was fired from CNN on the same day Fox News dismissed Carlson) and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. (Yaccarino used to oversee advertising sales at NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News.)
“It’d be great to have @maddow, @donlemon & others on the left put their shows on this platform,” Musk wrote on June 8 above a retweet of the second installment of Carlson’s show. “You will receive our full support. The digital town square is for all.”
The metrics obtained by NBC News help clarify misconceptions that have spread on social media.
In the days since “Tucker on Twitter” debuted, pro-Carlson accounts on Twitter have made claims about the size of his audience based on the number of “views” listed underneath his tweets. The day after the first episode dropped, for example, Carlson’s biographer, Chadwick Moore, tweeted in part: “Tucker’s video got 90 million, and counting.”
The video views data shared with NBC News helps paint a more well-rounded portrait of Carlson’s performance on Twitter, but the numbers might overstate his viewership, too. Twitter’s official guidelines for content creators states that a “video view metric is triggered when a user watches a video for at least 2 seconds and sees at least 50% of the video player in-view.”
Carlson’s admirers have implied that his viewership on Twitter dwarfs the average number of viewers who reliably tuned into “Tucker Carlson Tonight” in the 8 p.m. hour of Fox News, which attracted a nightly average of 3.391 million viewers in April, the final month it was on air, according to Nielsen, the television industry’s leading measurement firm.
But those claims are misleading, and the comparisons are apples and oranges, as the former president of Nielsen explained in a widely cited 2015 blog post.
“In TV, the standard measurement unit for viewership is the average-minute audience — how many viewers there are in an average minute of content,” Steve Hasker wrote in the post. “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 a second or two.
“These two metrics are quite different, and comparing one to the other unfairly tilts the comparison against TV,” he added.