McCain speech draws 38.9 million

Fox News notched 9.1 million viewers

The McCain campaign’s “Country First” slogan took on another meaning on Thursday night at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center: The final night of the Republican National Convention, which featured the Arizona senator’s acceptance speech, logged a stunning 38.9 million total viewers on broadcast and cable outlets, according to Nielsen estimates.

Not only did that tally win the night in a walk, it topped by 500,000 viewers the performance of last week’s Democratic National Convention finale at Denver’s Invesco Field, highlighted by Barack Obama’s address.

It was a particularly big night for Fox News, which notched a spectacular 9.1 million viewers, accounting for nearly a quarter of the tube’s total haul and nearly equaling its take for the confab’s second night, which showcased veep nominee Sarah Palin. The News Corp. channel trounced the cable competish, its take easily besting CNN’s (4.8 million) and MSNBC’s (2.5 million) combined.

NBC also had reason to celebrate, as it garnered a political-season-best 8.7 million viewers, likely helped in good measure by its powerhouse lead-in, the season-opening NFL contest featuring league champs The New York Giants, which averaged a potent xx.x million viewers despite its early 7 p.m. ET starting time.

Fellow nets ABC (6.0 million) and CBS (5.3 million) were not a threat, though the Alphabet improved on its lead-in, a “Grey’s Anatomy” rerun (4.0 million), while the Eye slipped from its 9 p.m. fare, a repeat of “CSI” (7.6 million).

For the week, televised RNC coverage averaged 34.5 million viewers compared to the Democrats’ 30.2 million. Impressive, but with an asterisk, as the Republican number is a three-day average that excludes Monday night’s festivities, which were scratched due to Hurricane Gustav’s landfall in New Orleans.

The Dems’ Denver number represents all four days, Monday’s kickoff session typically drawing the fewest eyeballs.

The tune-in for the Republicans may also have been higher since it came after the Labor Day holiday, while the Dems’ event took place in a vacation-heavy frame (the week before the holiday).

The 2008 RNC figure was also a whopping improvement over 2004’s (22.6 million), though the ‘04 number counted only live viewing, while ‘08 counts live plus same-day watchers.

Meanwhile, Nielsen will not release individual network averages for Friday night’s “Stand Up to Cancer” spec, which aired on ABC, CBS and NBC, because it did not contain advertising.

In Nielsen’s affiliate-based preliminaries, however, the event amassed 10.3 million viewers, with ABC leading the way (3.8 million).

Rick Kissell contributed to this report.