All told, the star-studded first night of the Democratic National Convention did indeed top the first night of the Republican National Convention.
An audience of 25.74 million tuned in to ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News from 10 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., when those networks were all carrying live coverage, with 8.62 million of those viewers falling into the important-to-cable-news age range of 25-54.
The first night of last week’s RNC drew an audience of 23.02 million, itself up slightly from 2012’s haul of 22.3 million.
Once viewership from other networks Nielsen includes in its final count is added in, the total audience for night one of the 2016 DNC will likely surpass the audience for the first night of both 2012 and 2008’s DNCs (26.2 million and 22.3 million, respectively).
Perhaps somewhat predictably, CNN and MSNBC fared the best out of all the networks covering the convention. CNN, emerging from a ratings hole that was very much still being dug four years ago, had a total audience increase of 70% over 2012’s coverage (5.12 million from 8-11 p.m., 6.2 million from 10-11:30 p.m.). MSNBC delivered 4.6 million total viewers from 10-11:30 p.m. and 3.75 million from 8-11 p.m. The primetime averages indicate just how top-heavy the evening’s speakers were: Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders all spoke within the 10-11:30 p.m. time range.
Also in the realm of “Things Easily Foreseen,” Fox News delivered the second-lowest audience of the night with 3.33 million total viewers and 898,000 in the 25-54 demo from 10-11:30 p.m. That was still ahead of CBS’ coverage in total viewers — CBS pulled in 3.21 million — but slightly behind in the 25-54 demo (1.05 million). For primetime hours (8-11 p.m.), Fox News brought in 3.73 million total viewers and 858,000 in the 25-54 demo, indicating some tune-out after 11 — the opposite of what happened on CNN and MSNBC.
However, those numbers are actually a record for Fox News in terms of ratings for DNC coverage — the Fox News faithful apparently very much wanted to check out what Obama, Warren and Sanders had to say.
As a side note to all the numbers, it’s perhaps worth mentioning that convention viewership doesn’t actually correlate in any meaningful way to the outcome of an election. TV ratings for political events reflect any number of factors, like the current political climate or simply the star power of the speakers that night, but using them to predict any kind of real-world result is an exercise in futility.