Donald Trump on Thursday night capped the weirdest, wildest political convention in recent memory with a hot-blooded, 80-minute Cormac McCarthy novel of a speech that, despite extending well beyond the bounds of primetime on the East Coast, helped draw the biggest ratings of the past four days.
According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, Mr. Trump's address to Republican delegates averaged 30.8 million viewers, of whom 9.95 million were members of the core news demo. That translates to an 8.4 rating among adults 25-to-54, and marks a 45% improvement when compared with the 6.92 million members of the demo who tuned in for the final night of the 2012 RNC.
While Mr. Trump's speech was a far bigger draw than Mitt Romney's, the real estate mogul's deliveries were eclipsed by those of Sen. John McCain. The final night of the 2008 GOP convention scared up 36.5 million viewers across the six networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC) and drew a robust 16.1 million adults 25 to 54, good for a 13.6 in the dollar demo.
As has been the case since the network first began leaving its competition in the dust at the turn of the century, Fox News dominated the final leg of the Cleveland event. On the same night Roger Ailes stepped down as Chairman and CEO of the network, FNC's coverage of the speech averaged 9.72 million viewers, including 2.59 million members of the demo. Its 2.2 rating not only was the highest delivery for any individual network over the course of the four-night extravaganza, but it also catapulted FNC to the top of the heap in the RNC demo race. The network closed out the event with an average draw of 1.77 million adults 25 to 54, or a 1.49 rating, edging NBC's 1.69 million/1.42.
All told, FNC saw its average demo delivery drop 12% versus the 2012 confab, when it averaged 2 million adults 25 to 54. Conversely, CNN drew two-and-a-half more advertiser-coveted viewers, improving 148% to 1.35 million adults 25-54, up from just 545,000 four years ago.
CNN's big resurgence is emblematic of the network's recent gains under president Jeff Zucker. Year-to-date, the Turner-owned news net is averaging 395,000 adults 25-54 in primetime, putting it within arms length of its rival FNC (430,000) for the first time since 2002. In the second quarter, FNC averaged 358,000 demographically relevant viewers, up 15% versus the year-ago period, while CNN drew 324,000, up 57%. (While running a distant third in the cable news race with 225,000 adults 25-54, MSNBC improved 63% when compared with Q2 2015.)
In aggregate, the six networks' convention coverage averaged 23.9 million viewers, including 7.36 million adults 25-54 (6.2 rating). By comparison, the Romney RNC delivered 21.2 million viewers and 6.56 million members of the demo, good for a 5.5 rating.
If the cable ratings were rather volatile, the broadcast numbers remained fairly static versus the 2012 RNC. ABC was flat with an average draw of 1.06 million adults 25 to 54, or a 0.9 rating, while NBC was up 8% to 1.69 million and CBS slipped 5% with 880,000. MSNBC boosted its deliveries by 33%, climbing from an average draw of 463,000 adults 25-to-54 (0.4) in 2012 to 617,000 this week (0.5).
The cycle begins all over again on Monday, when the Democratic National Convention kicks off in Philadelphia. Like the 2012 GOP event, ratings for the 2012 DNC were down sharply when compared with 2008.