Presidential Press Conference Watched by 24.7 Million

Rash Report: Down 14% From Last Obama Prime-Time Address

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MINNEAPOLIS ( -- An underdog becomes the top dog, based not on being well-connected but by connecting well with people. But soon, the meteoric media rise is tempered by TV appearances that overexpose and seemingly making their uncommon gifts commonplace.

President Obama's press conference last night was down 14% from his April 29 press conference.
President Obama's press conference last night was down 14% from his April 29 press conference. Credit: AP
Susan Boyle? Well, yes, as her cautionary tale from "Britain's Got Talent" was told on "America's Got Talent" last night. And apparently Americans have begun tuning out the YouTube sensation, as the 2.5/7 rating and share in the ad-centric 18-to-49 demographic was down 17% from last week.

But the scenario might also describe President Barack Obama, who took to the airwaves -- again -- with a presidential press conference. And although he reached more than 24.6 million viewers (and voters) on 11 networks, that was down 14% from his April 29 press conference. Which continues a ratings erosion since his first presidential presser on Feb. 9 drew 49.5 million, or twice as many as last night. (A March 24 press event was seen by 40.4 million Americans.)

Of course, the two scenarios are demonstrably different in importance. Susan Boyle was leading a reality show, while Barack Obama is leading in the real world, with last night's crux being the crucial issue of health care. But the declining TV and approval ratings suggest that just when he really needs Congress and constituents to listen, his unusual ubiquity may make it harder to be heard.

Granted, the problems the president inherited meant multiple appeals to his dual targets of politicians and the public were necessary. And it's hard to blame the president's political advisors, as Obama's strongest calling card is his eloquent, and even elegant, way with the bully pulpit. But it won't be surprising if the White House reconsiders appearances like being the first sitting president to follow Jay Leno's stand-up routine, or throwing out the first pitch at the All Star Game. This may have made him a regular guy, but that cuts both ways, and can make it harder for the more important pitch like his pressing public appeal for national health care.

Indeed, regardless of political proclivity, Americans seem to be wary of politicians perceived as all talk, no action. So maybe it's not surprising that the all action, no talk contestants on Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance?" was the top-rated entertainment program of the night. This helped Fox finish first, as the two-hour version delivered a 2.9/9, well beyond the incomplete ratings returns (Nielsen does not count "noncommercial" telecasts in their overall averages) of ABC (1.9/6), NBC (1.8/5) and CBS (1.4/4). (The CW did not carry the coverage and averaged an overall .5/2.)

Rash chart July 22, 2009Click for PDF
See how all the shows did in the ratings.

To be sure, Fox and "Dance" delivered in part by being the only entertainment program amongst the Big Four networks to run against Obama. Because just like its controversial choice to run "Lie to Me" instead of the April 29 conference, Fox, like an increasing number of Americans, decided to tune out President Obama.

Thursday: With most of the network schedule reruns, go for a classic instead: AMC runs "Rio Bravo" and TCM airs "Of Mice and Men."
Friday: Finally, a newsmagazine with news: ABC's "20/20" puts the journalistic energy into examining the oil industry and the efforts to harvest and harness alternative fuels in "Over a Barrel: The Truth about Oil."

Ratings for the final two episodes of once promising comedy "Samantha Who?" which concludes tonight.

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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

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