Fox News Channel finished a landslide week by posting its largest audience of 2004 during the closing hour of the Republican National Convention. As President Bush accepted his party’s nomination, Fox News averaged 7.34 million viewers and beat nearest competitor NBC News by nearly 1.5 million viewers, according to data from Nielsen Media Research.
Thursday marked the third straight night on which FNC beat all three of the Big 3 broadcast networks’ hour-long convention specials. FNC finished second to CNN during the four-day Democratic National Convention in July, when both were well behind the broadcast networks in audience size.
According to Fox, its Thursday coverage goes into the record book as the most watched nonsports program on ad-supported cable in 2004. Only the Lakers-Timberwolves NBA playoff game May 31 (9.44 milion viewers), the NBA All-Star Game Feb. 17 (8.19 million), and Major League Baseball’s Home Run Derby June 28 (7.71 million) attracted larger audiences.
Bill Shine, Fox News production VP, cautioned critics not to write off Fox’s success to politics. “If by looking at our numbers and looking at our product and journalism after eight years, people are going to go to the fallback position of `Fox is Republican,’ then it just means we’re going to have continued success, because they don’t know what we do,” Mr. Shine said. “We devoted hours per day to that story. I think a large number of Americans knew that and came to us for that. We put on a good product, a product they like. And they like our journalism. We are a fun, interesting network to watch.
“This is a big story for the 24-hour cable channels,” said Mr. Shine, noting that despite the importance of the 2004 elections, the broadcast networks allotted only three prime-time hours each for each of the presidential nominating gatherings.
With the Fox juggernaut so far ahead all week, attention shifted to the suddenly heated battle for second place in the cable news wars. MSNBC, which had seemed doomed to languish in third place, found itself a strong second during much of last week. That meant CNN, once seemingly invincible, was third for much of the Republican gathering.
An NBC spokeswoman said, “The shift of momentum for MSNBC is significant. It speaks to the combined power of MSNBC and NBC as well.”
In the hour dominated by President Bush’s acceptance speech, Fox’s 7.34 million viewer average was followed NBC News with 5.86 million, ABC News with 5.08 million, CBS News with 4.96 million, CNN with 2.65 million and MSNBC with 1.72 million.
During the prime-time hours of 8-11 p.m. Thursday, Fox averaged 5 million viewers, followed by CNN (1.86 million) and MSNBC (1.30 million).
Fox’s four-night average of 4.28 million viewers was an improvement of 107 percent over its performance during the Democratic convention and an increase of 421 percent over the 2000 Republican convention.
CNN’s average for the 2004 Republican meeting was 1.34, down 42 percent from Boston and down 1 percent from the Republican convention in 2000.
MSNBC’s average of 1.05 million for the New York convention was down 20 percent from Boston and up 137 percent from the 2000 Republican convention.
Nielsen estimated 27.57 million people tuned in during President Bush’s speech on the broadcast and cable news networks. That’s up dramatically from the comparable hour of the Republican gathering in 2000, when 19.24 million tuned in.
That’s also a dramatic increase over the comparable hour at the Democrats’ gathering in July, when an estimated 20.41 million tuned in during Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s acceptance speech.