Convention sees tepid ratings

BOSTON — For all the well choreographed pageantry of the Democratic National Convention, the general public remained indifferent after two days of impassioned party rhetoric.

About 9.1 million people watched the DNC on Tuesday, based on numbers for the various nets offering convention news. The viewership for the first two nights of the convention represent only about half the audience tuning in to regularly scheduled summer programming the week before.

Far from indifferent, however, was the aud for Tuesday’s convention edition of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.” According to Nielsen Media Research, 1.3 million viewers watched the political satirist, nearly as many who watched MSNBC. It repped Stewart’s third best Tuesday ever.

Tuesday’s marquee speaker, Teresa Heinz Kerry, was greeted on the floor of the convention by thousands of delegates waving bright red signs that read, “We love Teresa.”

But overnight voter surveys determined that American women didn’t share the delegates’ fervor.

“There are already polls out,” ABC News’ “Nightline” anchor Ted Koppel told Daily Variety on Wednesday. “Sixty percent of American women say they would be more comfortable with Laura Bush.”

Such lightning-quick market research has helped transform the event into a popularity contest with instant results.

It was too soon Tuesday to say how effectively the Dems have scripted the weeklong pep rally. But some DNC speakers are already breakout political stars.

Barack Obama, a U.S. Senate candidate from Illinois, appeared poised to assume a larger national profile after a rousing speech Tuesday night.

“He was the undisputed star of last night,” Koppel said.

Obama was one of the fresh faces the DNC has sought to showcase in Boston, supplanting dinosaurs like Jimmy Carter, Ted Kennedy and Al Gore with younger, splashier speakers in the final two nights.

Ratings were certain to increase with last night’s acceptance speech by vice presidential candidate John Edwards, with ABC News, CBS News and NBC News rejoining the fray and providing live coverage at 10 p.m. ET.

“The picture of Edwards and Kerry alone stands for young, vibrant American democracy,” New York City Council member Eric Gioia told Daily Variety. “John Edwards is good-looking enough to be a movie star. When you think of Dick Cheney, it’s almost like they called up Central Casting to get the B-movie bad guy.”

The outspoken Heinz Kerry is arguably a different kind of star — one who could subvert the best-laid plans of the Kerry campaign.

“If the point of the convention was to make me think about Teresa Heinz Kerry 24 hours a day, then it’s been a success,” said writer Andy Borowitz, a regular on CNN’s “American Morning.” “She so rarely mentions the Democratic nominee for president.”

Ratings rise

The cable news nets and PBS clearly benefited from the blackout on the broadcast side Tuesday night. Their numbers surged compared with the second night of the 2000 DNC. MSNBC, coming in behind CNN, even beat leader Fox News Channel in the 10 p.m. ET hour — albeit by only 9,000 viewers.

CNN took the evening overall, closely beating Fox News for the second night in a row in total primetime aud (2.362 million vs. 2.340), according to Nielsen Media Research. MSNBC averaged 1.4 million, a sizable turnout for the longtime No. 3 news net.

MSNBC also made a strong showing in the key news demo, almost catching up with the competish. NBC-owned news net averaged 506,000 adults 25-54 for the night, while CNN averaged 547,000 and Fox News had 763,000. MSNBC beat CNN in the demo during the 9 p.m. hour and Fox News at 10 p.m. — a rare victory.

About 10.3 million watched the second night of the convention in 2000, including the 5.8 million viewers tuning into ABC News, the only broadcast net to offer convention coverage that night. CNN averaged 1.4 million viewers; MSNBC, 675,000; and Fox News Channel –which was not the powerhouse it is today — 379,000.

PBS still drew more viewers than any of the three cable news outlets Tuesday night, averaging 3 million viewers, up 32% from the same frame in 2000. Pubcaster is airing live from the convention throughout the primetime hours.

“We’ve contended from the start that there is an audience for this kind of coverage, and we’ve been committed to covering the convention as fully as possible, and not just as a backdrop,” PBS spokesman Rob Flynn said.

Flynn was referring, at least in part, to Fox News, which has drawn attention for not covering some of the earlier primetime speeches, including Sen. Edward Kennedy’s on Tuesday night.

Instead, Fox News is keeping the camera on its skybox in the Fleet Center, home this week to “The O’Reilly Factor” at 8 p.m. E.T. and “Hannity & Colmes” at 9. Both shows are focusing on the convention.

On Tuesday, O’Reilly’s feisty interview with filmmaker Michael Moore helped deliver Fox News the biggest aud of the night, with his show averaging 3 million viewers in the 8 p.m. hour, according to Nielsen. That compared with 1 million MSNBC viewers and 1.6 million CNN viewers.

Fox News’ numbers fell over the next two hours, dropping to 1.85 million viewers in the 10 p.m. ET hour, when Heinz Kerry spoke. (Fox did carry her speech.) CNN’s aud jumped to 2.9 million at 10 p.m., while MSNBC drew 1.854 million viewers.

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