Ratings for Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's acceptance speech, which featured several nods to her five children and husband seated in a nearby VIP box, reflect a significant surge for both the broadcast and cable networks compared to the commensurate Wednesday when the Democratic vice presidential nominee, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, had his acceptance speech. Overall, for the traditional "Big Three" broadcast networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) and the Big Three cable networks (CNN, MSNBC and Fox News Channel), ratings were 72% higher in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic. For total viewers 18 and up (which means all those eligible to vote), the ratings rise was 62%.
Individual network ratings are not available for NBC and CBS, as neither network ran commercials. But in general the ratings rise is good news for the networks -- as well as the media industry itself -- since motivated voters may make motivated viewers (and readers and listeners), augmenting audiences for campaign coverage over the next two months.
And that may prove tricky for TV reporters going forward, as the McCain campaign seems to be running against two opponents: the Democrats and what many call the Eastern elite media. This reporter was on the convention floor during Gov. Palin's acceptance speech last night, and one of the crowd's most passionate moments was when she took on the media directly by saying, "But here's a little news flash for all those reporters and commentators: I'm not going to Washington to seek their good opinion -- I'm going to Washington to serve the people of this great country."
The delegates' boos and catcalls directed toward the section of the convention floor designated for the national media were loud and long, as the visceral distaste (if not disgust) for the "mainstream" media suggested the campaign would continue to try to make those reporting the news, the news itself.
Without convention ratings for NBC and CBS, it's difficult to discern the winners of the night's ratings race among the traditional Big Three, but two networks passed on politics and chose entertainment. Fox -- which ceded convention coverage to its cable cousin -- ran a two-hour season premiere of "Bones," which delivered a 3.3/9, right about even with last fall's bow.
And the CW countered with a two-hour "America's Next Top Model." The good news for this week's "it" network was "Top Model" gave the network the third straight night of finishing third or higher. The bad news is the 1.7/5 was 32% lower than last fall's first strut on the catwalk.
As for nonpartisan programs on NBC,CBS and ABC, they performed like Govs. Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, three of the RNC's earlier speakers: in the race, but ultimately also-rans. CBS ran "Greatest American Dog" (1.4/4) and "Criminal Minds" (1.5/4). ABC aired reruns of "Wife Swap" (1.2/4) and "Supernanny" (1.2/3).
And NBC delivered a 2.7/7 for a two-hour version of "America's Got Talent," the story of plucky performers trying to make their big breakthrough to the American public.
Don't be surprised if more than one was inspired by the performance and ratings -- if not the rhetoric -- of Wednesday's big star, Sarah Palin of Wasilla, Alaska.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Thursday: McCain's Palin pick was the equivalent of a political Hail Mary pass. He'll try to score tonight with his acceptance speech (10 p.m. ET, multiple networks), but he'll have to compete with real football as the NFL season kicks off on NBC with the Washington Redskins at the New York Giants.
Friday: Does all this political coverage make you want to escape to a deserted island? Catch "Swiss Family Robinson," 8 p.m. on TCM.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
It's clear who's at the top of the ticket. But can John McCain top Sarah Palin on the top of the Nielsen chart?
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NOTE: All ratings based on adults 18-49. A share is a percentage of adults 18-49 who have their TV sets on at a given time. A rating is a percentage of all adults 18-49, whether or not their sets are turned on. For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. adults 18-49 population with TVs. Ratings quoted in this column are based on live-plus-same-day unless otherwise noted. (Many ad deals have been negotiated on the basis of commercial-minute, live-plus-three-days viewing.)
John Rash is senior VP-director of media analysis for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For more, see rashreport.com.