Trump Out-Draws Hillary, But Democrats Win the Convention Ratings War

A Resurgent CNN Is the Top DNC Destination

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Hillary Clinton, 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, waves while arriving on stage during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on Thursday.
Hillary Clinton, 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, waves while arriving on stage during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on Thursday. Credit: Ida Mae Astute/ABC

Americans don't vote with their remote controls, and TV ratings are an unreliable indicator of who will occupy the Oval Office as of Jan. 20, but there's still something to be said about bragging rights. To that end, Donald Trump's 75-minute speech to delegates at last week's Republican National Convention drew a larger national TV audience than Hillary Clinton's historic address to her constituents.

According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, some 28.2 million viewers tuned in Thursday night to witness the former secretary of state and U.S. senator formally accept her party's nomination, making it the most-watched night of the 2016 Democratic National Convention. That turnout fell 2.6 million viewers shy of the 30.8 million people who watched Mr. Trump's July 21 RNC speech.

While Mr. Trump's reach was greater than Ms. Clinton's, overall the DNC was a bigger draw than its GOP counterpart. Over the course of its four-night run, the DNC averaged 25.6 million total viewers across ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC, topping the RNC's deliveries (23.9 million) by a margin of 1.75 million viewers.

The Dems also out-performed their rivals in the core news demo, averaging 8.44 million adults 25 to 54 over the four-night span to the RNC's 7.36 million. The slightly younger-skewing DNC beat the GOP confab by nearly an entire ratings point, averaging a 7.1 in the demo to the RNC's 6.2.

On the network side, the biggest winner during the DNC was CNN, which averaged 6.53 million viewers, of whom 2.31 million were members of the 25-to-54 set, good for a 1.9 rating. CNN's overall deliveries were up 50% compared to the 2012 DNC, when it averaged 4.37 million viewers; more importantly, the network's demos were up 43%.

NBC took second place in the demo, with an average draw of 1.71 million adults 25 to 54, or a 1.4 rating. That marked a 26% decline from the 2.31 million demographically relevant viewers/1.9 rating NBC delivered during the 2012 DNC.

Third-place MSNBC slipped 10% to 1.37 million adults 25 to 54 and a 1.1 rating, while ABC saw its demo deliveries fall 7% to 1.29 million targeted viewers and a 1.1 rating. CBS (1.04 million adults 25 to 54 and a 0.9 rating) saw its demos drop 20% versus the 2012 DNC, while Fox News Channel closed out this year's event at the back of the pack, averaging just 722,000 advertiser-coveted viewers and a 0.6 rating. Other than CNN, Fox News was the only network covering the convention that improved on its 2012 deliveries, growing 6% versus the 681,000 adults 25 to 54 that it averaged during the previous DNC.

Among the most visible sponsors during the broadcasters' coverage of the DNC were Pfizer, Ancestry.com, Warner Bros. ("Suicide Squad," "War Dogs"), E-Trade, Mercedes-Benz, SmithKlineGlaxo, Expedia, Honda, Kia and Paramount Pictures ("Florence Foster Jenkins").

Cable coverage was dominated by spots for quick service restaurants (McDonald's, Panera Bread), automotive (Mercedes, Audi, Honda, Volkswagen, Buick), financial services (American Express, Fisher Investments), pharma (SKG, Pfizer, Bayer) and studios. Among the roster of moviemakers that bought time in cable coverage of the DNC were Universal Pictures ("Jason Bourne"), The Weinstein Company ("Hands of Stone") and CBS Films ("Hell or High Water").

If the DNC's ratings victory doesn't necessarily suggest that Hillary should start picking out the new White House china just yet, it's worth noting that the years in which convention ratings are particularly robust tend to correlate with higher voter turnout.

With the conventions out of the way, the election cycle pivots to the presidential debates. There are three televised showdowns scheduled before Election Day, starting on Monday, Sept. 26, at Hofstra University. The second debate will be held on Sunday, Oct. 9, where it will run up against a big "Sunday Night Football" matchup. That night, the New York Giants, one of two teams representing the nation's No. 1 DMA, will travel to Green Bay to take on the Packers, which in 2015 were the most-watched, highest-rated NFL franchise.

The third and final presidential debate is set for Wednesday, Oct. 19, just three weeks before Americans head to the polls.

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