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NFL And DNC Compete For Prime Time Viewers


People in Charlotte are watching the convention by the thousands, but people who are watching on television are doing so by the millions. Last night, the convention had some serious TV competition. NBC went with the NFL season opener, the Cowboys-Giants game, instead of Bill Clinton's speech.

How many people are watching the conventions? We turn now to Eric Deggans, who is TV and media critic for the Tampa Bay Times. Hi, Eric.

ERIC DEGGANS: How are you doing?

SIEGEL: Well, first, Nielsen's numbers for Tuesday, the first night of the Democratic Convention, say 26.2 million people tuned in compared to 22.3 million for the first night of the Republican Convention. It means that Michelle Obama outdrew Ann Romney by a few million. I want you to put those numbers in some historical context. Was it up, down? What would you say?

DEGGANS: Well, for the Democrats it's up by about four million viewers. In 2008, the first night they drew 22.2 million, and that was a pretty remarkable election because of Barack Obama. The Republicans, in the first night of their convention in 2008, did 21.5 million people. So the Democrats this time out did pretty well.

SIEGEL: And over the past couple of decades, I gather fewer people generally are watching conventions than used to.

DEGGANS: Yeah, you know, we - we've seen sort of a steady decline in the convention watching from, say, the mid-'90s on. But the one place where we sort of hit a little bit of an increase was in 2008.

SIEGEL: On what channels are they watching this? Who - if this is a competitive week between the networks, who's winning? First in Tampa and now in Charlotte.

DEGGANS: Well, what was interesting, I think, is that depending on the ideology on display, the ratings seem to shift a little bit. So we saw Fox News do very well with the Republican National Convention. At one point they were scoring more viewers than their rivals combined, and they did very well. The final night of the Republican convention, for example, they did about nine million viewers, which was really good.

Now, according to some early ratings that CNN put out about the first night of the Democratic convention, that trend reversed, and we saw MSNBC come out on top amongst the cable channels with four million viewers, and NBC come out on top amongst all of the TV outlets with five million viewers, and Fox News at the bottom, with 2.3 million viewers.

SIEGEL: This year, unlike four years ago at the conventions, there are multiple live streams in which you can watch the convention on, say, a computer or a mobile device. Do we have any idea how many people are doing that?

DEGGANS: You know, we have some really loose figures. You know, what we've heard about the RNC, for example, is that 2.8 million viewers seemed to tune in to the live stream that the Republican National Convention had. And they put that up on YouTube. And five million tweets were issued about the RNC last week, which was a huge increase from half a million in 2008, when Twitter technology was really in its infancy. And it seems like this new metric that's kind of emerging is tweets per minute. You know, when somebody is speaking, people start talking to each other on Twitter.

For example, Mitt Romney inspired 14,000 tweets per minute during his speech last week. Bill Clinton inspired 22,000 tweets per minute at the height of interest in his speech. But they were both beat by Michelle Obama, who got 28,000 tweets per minute.

SIEGEL: But one shortcoming of that metric is we don't know how many thousands of tweets per minute were people saying, can you believe this clown...


SIEGEL: ...and how many people is saying, wow, I'm wowed by this speech.

DEGGANS: Exactly, or just saying I agree, you know, and re-tweeting people, we don't know. All it shows is that the level of conversation that's going on. But as you said, we don't want to assign too much value to that.

SIEGEL: Eric Deggans of the Tampa Bay Times, thanks a lot.

DEGGANS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.