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September 4, 2004
Winning The Ratings War, And Why

In a sign that the Republican base may be more fired up than the Bush-haters on the left, Nielsen Media Research reported that the RNC garnered 3 million more viewers than the Democratic Party's convention in July -- and that viewership at Fox far outstripped the three traditional broadcast networks:

Nearly 28 million Americans -- more than a quarter of them watching cable's Fox News Channel alone -- tuned in to see Bush accept his nomination for a second term at the climax of the Republican National Convention on Thursday, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Bush's national TV audience topped Kerry's speech at the Democratic convention in July by just over 3 million viewers, among those watching Big Three commercial networks ABC, CBS and NBC and the three leading cable news outlets -- Fox, CNN and MSNBC.

The Republican meeting as a whole also drew bigger audiences than the Democrats, averaging 22.6 million viewers over four nights at New York City's Madison Square Garden, compared with 20.4 million mustered by Kerry and his party in Boston in July.

The enhanced interest of the RNC could be chalked up to the security question, but I rather doubt that the people checking the coverage with the car-wreck mentality would have stuck around all three nights of national coverage (Reuters says four, but that only applies to the cable channels). The additional viewership says that the Republicans have motivated their base to stay more active in the campaign, watching not just for the President's speech but for the keynote speakers every night.

Not only do the raw numbers demonstrate the vitality of the Republican base, but where they turned for coverage underscores their enthusiasm and their intent:

Meanwhile, Fox News continued its unprecedented ratings dominance over this year's Republican convention, edging out not only its cable rivals but each of the major broadcast networks by drawing 7.3 million viewers to its telecast of Bush's address.

That marked the third straight night Fox has surpassed its larger broadcast rivals in the first case of a cable channel attracting more viewers than any of the three major networks during a scheduled event covered by all of them, experts said.

NBC ranked second on Thursday with 5.9 million viewers, followed by ABC with 5.1 million and CBS with 5 million. CNN finished fifth with 2.6 million viewers while NBC's sister cable channel, MSNBC, brought up the rear with 1.7 million.

Fox News Channel - a cable outlet - outdrew all three broadcast networks, a win that shows how dissatisfied mainstream viewers have become with the coverage provided by traditional media in this election cycle. Fox almost tripled CNN's ratings as well. People are growing tired of the left-leaning media filters being applied to campaign events, including the talking-head analysis that occurs during and after the speeches. Let me explain it this way: no one needs to tune in to CBS to understand that Dan Rather will be unhappy with speeches at the RNC. What's the point of watching him?

Media analyst Andrew Tyndall explained the Fox News Channel win by reminding Reuters that Fox is more ideologically aligned with Republicans. However, what Tyndall fails to mention is that the other networks -- and especially their lead anchors -- are much more aligned with the Democrats, and viewers know it. If that results in a cable outlet outdrawing the three main free-signal broadcasters across all three nights of the Republican convention, it sends a powerful message about the state of the electorate in this election cycle.

And if the broadcast networks listen closely, they should hear another powerful message in these numbers. Their audiences have weighed the supposed objectivity of their newsrooms and found it fraudulent. If they plan on recapturing those viewers and rebuilding their credibility, they need to start making significant structural and editorial changes now.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 4, 2004 7:53 AM

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Tracked on September 4, 2004 9:37 AM

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