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The Republican National Convention is off and running in Cleveland, and early Nielsen returns have the first night of the four-day event performing just so-so in early returns.
Presumptive nominee Donald Trump, introducing wife Melania Trump and her now-controversial speech, was easily the biggest name to grace the Quicken Loans Arena stage — following a motley cavalcade that included Scott Baio, Antonio Sabato Jr., Rudy Giuliani and a member of the Duck Dynasty cast. Across all networks, Nielsen estimates a total 23 million viewers tuned into the keynote during the 10 p.m. hour.
Among the broadcast networks, the first night’s primetime coverage crown goes to NBC News. The network, one of three of the Big Four with a news reporting from Cleveland, averaged 3.9 million viewers during the 10 p.m. ET hour. ABC News followed with 3.5 million viewers, while CBS News trailed with 2.6 million. That’s a total 10.1 million viewers for the broadcast networks, a relatively soft start for the convention.
Fox News Channel expectedly led the cable news networks and scored a victory over the broadcast networks, averaging 6.3 million viewers in the 10 p.m. hour when so many networks were tuned to the convention floor. CNN also beat the broadcast networks with a strong 3.94 million viewers. MSNBC nabbed 1.99 million.
FNC also brought the best showing among adults 25-54. The network brought 1.6 million in the key news demographic. NBC News skewed the youngest, averaging a 1.1 rating among adults 18-49.
If you’re looking for an early comparison to 2008 or 2012, you’ll have to wait until the numbers for Tuesday night come in. The big GOP gathering has been plagued by weather interruptions during the last two presidential elections. Night one of the 2008 RNC was largely sidelined by media coverage of Hurricane Gustav. And the first night of the 2012 event was essentially nixed as Hurricane Isaac passed by the Miami location.
Across all cable and broadcast networks, and excluding the curtailed kickoff, the 2012 RNC pulled 24.8 million viewers a night. That was down significantly from 2008, when the three-night average was 32.5 million viewers. All convention coverage, particularly the Republicans’, tends to skew older. Lest we all forget 2012, when an original episode of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo topped any single network’s coverage of the RNC among adults 18-49. (Times have changed.)
One person who saw an early boost from the coverage is Stephen Colbert. The Late Show host saw his CBS series hit its youngest showing in five months and edged past his competition among households — per Nielsen’s metered markets.
It’s a strange business, adding all of the respective coverage together to find one gross audience number. And in that, the night’s counter-programming can get lost in the shuffle. That said, The Bachelorette led Monday with a 1.9 rating among adults 18-49 and 6.6 million viewers — a greater number than any individual RNC telecast.
The media circus around the 2016 election, starting with the record-shattering GOP debate nearly a year ago, breathed new excitement into convention coverage. And the bar for convention watching is incredibly high: 2008 saw both the RNC and the DNC swell to nearly 40 million simultaneous viewers in their respective fourth nights — culminating with then Senator Obama delivering his acceptance of the nomination to a 84,000-strong crowd gathered at Denver’s Invesco Field at Mile High.
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