Despite all the media coverage spurred by Barack Obama’s history-making presidential nomination, Republican presidential nominee John McCain walked away from his convention with record-breaking TV ratings.
The Republicans averaged 34.5 million viewers for the three days of their convention, 14% more than the Democrats’ four-day average.
The 2008 race is shaping up as a ratings bonanza for TV news operations. Audiences for this year’s Republican National Convention trumped the 2004 event by 41%. Similarly, the 2008 Democratic National Convention enjoyed a 57% increase over 2004.
Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin pulled in a huge audience for her speech accepting the nomination on Sept. 3, but it was Sen. John McCain who posted perhaps the most surprising TV ratings. He pulled in 38.9 million viewers for his Sept. 4 speech, exceeding Sen. Obama’s total by about 500,000.
The tale behind Sen. McCain’s huge draw includes many storylines, perhaps the most important being his surprise choice of Alaska’s Gov. Palin as his running mate just a week before the convention. News that her unmarried teenage daughter Bristol was pregnant spurred even more interest in the Republican event.
The audience for Gov. Palin’s speech rivaled Sen. Obama’s acceptance speech, falling short by about 1 million viewers. Her performance received huge buzz in the mainstream media, piquing interest in what Sen. McCain would say.
Steven Lanzano, chief operating officer of media buying and research firm MPG North America, said, “I think the ratings [of the RNC] would have been OK, but I don’t think they would have been what they were” if Sen. McCain had chosen any of several other potential running mates, including Mitt Romney or Joe Lieberman.
Riding that momentum, Sen. McCain’s speech set a convention viewership record.
Several other factors primed TV audiences for the Republican National Convention, including higher post-Labor Day tune-in; traction from several high-profile broadcast premieres, such as The CW’s “90210,” that brought viewers to their sets; and the kickoff of football season, which put 14 million NBC viewers in front of their sets immediately before Sen. McCain’s speech.
Mr. Lanzano said even the specific teams in that NFL game could have boosted viewership, as the Washington Redskins took on the New York Giants.
“I think he got a big boost off of that. New York is a huge market,” Mr. Lanzano said.
With eight weeks to go until Election Day, both broadcast and cable networks stand to benefit from the close race between Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain. Already, Fox News Channel and CNN bested all comers for their respective coverage of Sen. McCain’s and Sen. Obama’s speeches.
Fox News Channel drew 9.2 million viewers for Sen. McCain’s speech, one-fourth of the entire viewership for the night. That represented the biggest audience during either convention, across all broadcast and cable networks.