Aug 28, 2020 - Economy

Biden narrowly beats Trump in convention speech ratings

Data: Nielsen; Note: Night one of the 2008 and 2012 conventions were pushed due to hurricanes; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

About 23.8 million people watched President Trump's speech at the Republican National Convention Thursday, according to early figures from Nielsen. That's about 3% fewer viewers than the 24.6 million who tuned into Joe Biden's speech at the Democratic National Convention last week.

The big picture: TV ratings for the RNC were down about 21% on average this year across all four nights compared to 2016. They were also down 10% compared to the 2020 DNC.

Why it matters: Ratings are not a proxy for popularity or voter enthusiasm, but they provide a loose sense of which party and figures are capturing the attention of the country.

By the numbers: The president's White House speech drew the highest ratings of any night during the Republican convention.

  • In total, the RNC averaged 19.3 million viewers across the four nights it aired in the 10 p.m. primetime hour this week, while the DNC averaged 21.6 million viewers across all four nights of its convention last week.

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

  • It also beat all other broadcast and cable networks every night of the convention in the coveted 25-54 age demographic.
  • By comparison, MSNBC won against all other broadcast and cable networks for every night of the DNC.

The numbers show how increasing partisanship in America may have curtailed viewership.

  • The ratings drop at the RNC and the DNC were weighted much more heavily to decreases in viewership of traditional broadcast networks like CBS, NBC and ABC, compared to cable. Broadcast news networks tend to attract fewer partisan viewers than their cable counterparts.

The big picture: The ratings drop at both conventions is likely attributable to the virtual nature of this year's events, and the plethora of streaming and digital viewing options that exist today, as Axios has previously noted.

  • There are more choices to stream television programming 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.

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

What's next: The Biden campaign is already using the ratings beat to taunt Trump. Biden's press team joked about the numbers on Twitter shortly after the figures were released.

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