BOSTON — John Edwards spoke, but there was barely a bounce for the broadcast networks trying to emerge from the worst convention malaise in modern television history.
Even with Edwards’ accepting the Democratic nomination for veepee Wednesday evening, fewer people watched the commercial broadcast nets than did on the same night in 2000 — or even this past Monday night.
According to Nielsen Media Research, 12.6 million viewers watched ABC News, CBS News and NBC News in the 10 p.m. ET hour. That compared with the 15 million viewers who watched the third night of the 2000 Dem convention. On Monday night, 13.5 million viewers watched convention coverage on the three nets.
But adding in the cable news nets and PBS, about 20.3 million watched the convention Wednesday, the highest aud of the week and slightly more than in 2000, when a total of 19.3 million watched. It’s the first time this week that the total aud eclipsed the same frame in 2000.
Cable news nets, whose ratings continued to surge Wednesday, proclaimed the age of broadcast over in terms of owning the convention floor. (Political confabs used to define a broadcaster’s career.)
‘Not a broadcast event’
“The headline really is that cable news is now the proven medium. This is not a broadcast event by any means,” CNN chief operating officer for sales & marketing Greg D’Alba said.
Network news execs, who had hoped Edwards’ top billing would lure viewers, didn’t even try to hide their disappointment at the numbers. They continued to reject the notion that they are to blame for providing less coverage in primetime. Rather, they say, conventions have become a packaged event, devoid of any news.
“People just don’t seem to care,” one network exec said.
NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw said senior Democratic Party officials have told him throughout this week that they are kicking around the idea of cutting back the convention from four to two nights. That might once again make conventions a major TV event.
On the broadcast side, NBC News won Wednesday during the 10 p.m. ET hour, averaging 4.2 million viewers. ABC News came in second with 4 million viewers, and CBS was third with 3.9 million viewers.
PBS, which is providing live convention coverage throughout primetime, averaged 2.7 million viewers.
CNN continued to beat usual leader Fox News Channel in primetime Wednesday (2.2 million viewers vs. 1.8 million viewers,), underscoring the partisan divide that seems to separate a CNN viewer from a Fox News viewer. It’s the first time in recent history that CNN has outdone Fox News.
MSNBC has been the dark horse of the convention, drawing an unprecedented number of viewers, including 1 million Wednesday. Many attribute it to a renewed effort by the NBC News empire to foster better synergy between the broadcast news division and the cabler.
Combining its properties, NBC News averaged more than 5.5 million viewers Wednesday.
Comedy Central scored Wednesday night with Jon Stewart-hosted “The Daily Show,” which averaged 905,000 viewers 18-49 in the 11 o’clock half-hour, well ahead of second-place CNN’s convention coverage (584,000). And in adults 18-34, “Daily” topped the cable newsies combined.
Having a sister cable net softens the blow for Brokaw, who has been all over MSNBC this week. Even his mother called him when the broadcast nets didn’t provide any coverage Tuesday night to say she’d watched him on the cable side.
ABC News anchor Peter Jennings has been spending much of his time this week on ABC News Now, a new digital subchannel being offered to affils. The tiny channel isn’t available to many Americans, but it gives ABC News a chance to practice its hand at a 24/7 operation.