Nielsen ratings for the RNC

Don’t be fooled by the low Nielsen ratings for the RNC’s first night

By Andrea Widburg

The mainstream media and others on the left are happy to report that the television ratings reveal that the RNC’s audience on the first night of its convention was 29% lower than for the first night in 2016.  However, this fails to account for something significant, which was that C-SPAN’s audience was almost 600% greater than the DNC’s C-SPAN numbers for the first night of its convention.  Put another way, huge numbers of Americans wanted to watch the Republican convention.  They just didn’t want to watch the media mediate it.

Because numbers are involved here, let me make sure everybody is operating from the same set of facts:

In 2016, according to Nielsen, on the first night of the Democrat convention, 26 million people watched on television.  Nielsen’s numbers for the first night of the 2016 Republican convention held that 23 million people watched it on television.

Both of those were traditionally run conventions, with everyone gathered in a single venue and lots of time out for cheering, during which the media talking heads could insert their commentary.

Thanks to the Wuhan virus, both parties have used innovative formats for their 2020 conventions.  The Democrats opted for a Zoom-style format with celebrity hosts.  The Republicans opted for live footage from a magnificent, neo-classical venue and from the White House, along with a few professionally videotaped statements from people’s homes or other locations.

One would think curiosity would have driven many people to tune in to the first night of each convention.  Additionally, both parties consider this a make-or-break election that will determine America’s political destiny for a generation.  Nevertheless, the Nielsen numbers, which track television viewership, show that both parties witnessed drops — with the Republicans showing a steeper decline than the Democrats.

Nielsen reported that, on the first night of the 2020 Democrat convention, 19.7 million people turned on the television, a 24% drop in viewers.  Also, according to Nielsen, on the first night of the 2020 Republican convention, 17 million people turned on the television, a 26% decline in viewers.

Some media outlets say things were even worse for Republicans.  Thus, Variety said that, while the Republicans had more eyes on their first night than Nielsen reports, Republicans also had a bigger drop in viewers compared to 2016:

In total, just under 16 million people tuned in for night 1 of the RNC across the cable news and broadcast networks. That represents a 29% dip from the  opening night four years ago, which drew around 22.5 million pairs of eyeballs. For comparison, the first night of last week’s DNC drew 18.7 million viewers (which was itself down 27% from 2016).

The Daily Beast also reported that the Republicans’ first night drop in viewership was a problem compared to the Democrat experience.

Both outlets, however, missed something important about the viewer numbers.  It wasn’t that Republicans weren’t watching; it’s that they weren’t watching on the traditional news outlets.  Instead, Republicans, unlike Democrats, headed for the unmediated experience of C-SPAN:

Livestream viewership from C-SPAN’s coverage of the first night of the Republican National Convention was almost six times higher than that of the Democratic National Convention.

TV ratings released from Nielsen Media Research Tuesday show that nearly 440,000 people watched C-SPAN’s Republican convention livestream Monday night compared to a viewership total of only 76,000 viewers for the Democratic convention’s opening night a week earlier, according to the Hill.

It’s likely that a lot of viewers had the same reaction that I did when I tried to watch the convention on traditional television — and I went for Fox, which was presumptively not hostile to the Republicans.  From the first minute, Fox irritated me when it cut away from Charlie Kirk, the first speaker, to listen to talking heads talk about what they thought speakers would say.  I didn’t want to watch their guesses; I wanted to watch the speakers.  I therefore went to Spectrum’s C-SPAN channel.  (And I don’t know whether the ratings break out whether people watched through their cable provider or through the streaming video on YouTube.  If the ratings counted only one of those, the C-SPAN numbers may be higher.)

Considering that I was irritated by Fox’s friendly coverage, imagine how many more people couldn’t take the other media outlets’ hostile coverage.  After all, earlier in the day, CNN wouldn’t even televise Trump’s acceptance speech.  While I went to C-SPAN, it’s reasonable to believe that many just tuned out in disgust — or that other viewers, especially older ones, did not know how to get to C-SPAN’s convention coverage.

With a purely televised convention, viewers are realizing they no longer need the media to explain what’s going on, as is often the case at the live conventions.  Americans want to listen to fellow Americans, not to hostile Democrat party operatives yelling at the video like Grandpa Simpson yelling at the cloud.


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