Donald Trump helped TV networks secure blockbuster ratings during the primary debate cycle, and if the deliveries for the first night of the Republican National Convention are any indication, the GOP's presumptive nominee doesn't seem to have lost his touch.
According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, Monday night's convention coverage averaged 22.5 million viewers across ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC, up 9% versus the 20.6 million who tuned in for the opening salvo of the 2012 confab. In aggregate, the six networks posted a 6.0 rating in the news demo, which translates to around 7.14 million adults 25 to 54, which marked a 17% improvement versus a 5.1 rating/6.1 million viewers four years ago.
While overall deliveries for the 10-11 p.m. EDT program also were up appreciably versus the first night of the 2008 convention, which drew 18.9 million viewers, the demo lagged. Eight years ago, Sen. John McCain's opening night averaged 8 million adults 25 to 54, or a 6.8 rating.
Fox News Channel easily outpaced the rest of the pack, averaging 6.35 million viewers and a 1.4 in the target demo, which was flat versus its 2012 rating. CNN enjoyed the biggest lift, improving 168% to 3.94 million viewers while trebling its demo to a 1.2. ABC boosted its demo by two-tenths of a point to a 1.0, while NBC (1.4) and CBS (0.7) each lost a tenth. Cellar dweller MSNBC was flat with a 0.4 rating.
On an absolute basis, NBC won the 10 p.m. hour with an average draw of 1.64 million adults 25 to 54, edging Fox News by 37,000 viewers.
While advertisers paid higher-than-usual rates for spots in and around the convention coverage, only a handful of commercials ran during the actual event. The few ads that aired toward the back end of the 10-11 p.m. time slot were characteristically elder-skewing; for example, CNN ran a spot for Brookdale Senior Living and a direct response ad for SunSetter awnings, while three of CBS' seven ads were pharmaceutical buys.
TV news is the oldest-skewing programming on the dial, and the coverage of the GOP convention looks to be no exception. Fewer than one-third (32%) of those who tuned in for the speeches by Rudy Giuliani, Melania Trump, et al were members of the target demo, and the median age of those who were tuned in was 64 years.
Along with pharma and consumer package goods, other categories that were well-represented in post-convention coverage included insurance, fast food restaurants, financial services and travel.
Although Donald Trump's candidacy has been a boon to the TV nets, his oft-repeated boast about his ratings mojo ("I go on these shows and the ratings double") is unlikely to pay off on the final night of the convention. Per Nielsen, the fourth and final night of the 2012 GOP convention delivered 30.3 million viewers, and it's unlikely that the Donald's coronation will top 60 million viewers.
His first televised showdown with presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, however, could very well come close to breaking the all-time record for a presidential debate. That was set in 1992, when a three-hander featuring President George H.W. Bush, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton and Reform Party founder Ross Perot scared up a flabbergasting 97 million viewers.
For the record, the all-time least-watched debate was the second meeting between Pres. Clinton and Kansas Senator Bob Dole in 1996, which averaged just 36.3 million viewers. Generally speaking, presidential debates tend to draw around 70 million viewers across all participating networks.