Aug 22, 2020 - Economy

Biden speech draws highest ratings for DNC

Data: Nielsen; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: Nielsen; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Joe Biden's acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention drew the highest ratings of any night during the four-day event, according to Nielsen ratings.

The big picture: Viewership for the Democratic National Convention was down about 17% on average this year across all four nights compared to 2016.

Why it matters: The drop is likely attributable, at least in part, to the virtual nature of the convention and the plethora of streaming and digital viewing options that exist today.

  • There are more choices to stream television than there were in 2016, and about 15% fewer American households have Pay-TV now than they did then.
  • Viewers may have opted not to watch the event live, given the easily available options to watch it later or in short clips via digital channels.
  • It's also possible the virtual convention, without glitzy stages and effects, pushed some viewers to tune out the event on television altogether.

Details: MSNBC received the most total viewers among all networks, cable and broadcast, across the four-day event.

  • Fox, which usually dominates the evening primetime hours in viewership, lagged way behind. Audience numbers tended to drop each night on Sean Hannity's 9 p.m. program. Hannity's broadcast didn't air the convention in full, but the network did take the convention live during the 10 p.m. hour.
  • CNN beat all five other broadcast and cable networks every night of the convention in the coveted 25-54 age demographic.

The ratings drop was also weighted more heavily to massive decreases in viewership of traditional broadcast networks like CBS, NBC and ABC, compared to cable. Broadcast networks saw nearly 50% drops in viewership on the first two nights compared to 2016.

Be smart: There's no way of measuring exactly how many people streamed the convention or watched clips of it on social channels, but presumably, millions more Americans tuned in online.

  • The Biden campaign said Tuesday that preliminary numbers showed that at least 10.2 million people streamed the first night of the event.

The big picture: The numbers also show how a growing sense of partisan news consumption in America may have curtailed viewership.

  • Fox News didn't air the convention in full this year. In 2016, it skipped key speeches.
  • Ratings show that Fox's audience largely tuned out the hours it was aired in full anyway.

What's next: The Republican National Convention airs next week from Monday, August 24 to Thursday, August 27.

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