21.4 Million Total Viewers Watched Night 3 of the DNC Across 6 Networks, Up 17% From Night 2

By A.J. Katz 

*NIELSEN UPDATE, 5:30 p.m. ET:

An estimated 22.8 million people tuned in to watch the third night of the 2020 DNC. That’s a 6% bump from the 21.4 million total that was reported earlier today.

Additionally, the estimated 22.8 million is up 19% from Night 2 of the 2020 convention (19.2 million), but down 7% from Night 3 of the 2016 convention (24.4 million).


Day three of the convention was carried live from Milwaukee, Wisc., and remotely from many venues throughout the country across 10 networks.

The night featured speeches from Senator Elizabeth Warren and former President Barack Obama, as well as Senator Kamala Harris formally accepting her nomination as the 2020 Democratic vice presidential candidate.

While coverage varied by network, all 10 aired live coverage from approximately 10:00 p.m. ET to 11:15 p.m. ET.

Night 3 networks: ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, CNNe, Fox Business, Fox News, MSNBC and Newsy.



Viewers were interested to see the stars of the Democratic Party put up an impassioned rhetorical defense of their party and their presidential candidate Joe Biden last night, the third night of the 2020 DNC.

The evening featured speeches from former secretary of state and 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former President Barack Obama, and ended with the an acceptance speech from the vice presidential candidate, Sen. Kamala Harris.

On paper, this should have been the top-rated night of the week to date, due to the sheer star power of the speakers. Did that happen, or have viewers started to tune out of the festivities?

Indeed, it was the most-watched night yet.

According to early data from Nielsen, Night 3 of the DNC drew a total of 21.4 million total TV viewers across six networks from 10-11:15 p.m. ET. Compared to Night 2 (Tuesday) common coverage, that’s 17% growth. That’s also up 15% from opening night common coverage (10-11:15 p.m. ET). However, it’s an 11% decline from the third night of the 2016 DNC.

The six networks that are included in the above Night 3 total are English-broadcast and cable networks: CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, NBC, ABC and CBS. This total did not include streaming viewership figures, non-Nielsen-measured networks (like C-SPAN) or the Spanish-language broadcasters.

As was the case for previous nights, there will be a viewership bump when final live-plus-same-day data from Nielsen rolls in this evening. In fact, after that final live-plus-same-day data rolled in, the total TV viewership figure grew to 19.7 million across 10 Nielsen-measured networks.

Looking at Adults 25-54, which are increasingly less interested in watching this event (and ones like it) on linear TV, an average total of 5.46 million from the demo watched last night from 10-11:15 p.m. ET, per preliminary Nielsen data. That’s by far the best delivery of the week to date, +25% from Night 2 and +16% from opening night. Perhaps it was the Obama effect.

However, Night 3 of the 2020 DNC was down 31% in Adults 25-54 viewers versus Night 3 of 2016. That’s a far steeper decrease than the year-over-year decline in total viewers (down 11%).

These viewership figures aren’t particularly surprising. It’s tough to put on a truly compelling political event when everything is virtual, as opposed to an energetic event that’s originating live from an arena. Interest, and consequently ratings, were always going to be lower than usual. The increase in time shifting and digital viewing compared with this time four years ago also puts a dent in linear ratings. Roll all of that up, and not only do you get year-over-year loss in linear viewership for the Democrats, but you might even get 2020 RNC ratings down from 2016 RNC ratings. That said, this year’s RNC will likely outperform this year’s DNC, primarily because of Trump and the show he undoubtedly has planned.

Next, we’ll look at Night 3 ratings on a network-by-network basis.

MSNBC and CNN split honors for the third consecutive night (10-11:15 p.m. ET coverage period). MSNBC continues to finish No. 1 in total viewers, and dominated the competition with its 6.5 million total viewer average. The next closest finisher in total viewers was 5.8 million for CNN.

CNN has remained the go-to network among Adults 25-54, and averaged 1.70 million demo viewers last night. That’s double-digit growth from the prior night.

For the second consecutive night, NBC was the No. 1 broadcast network in total viewers, and for the third consecutive night, the No. 1 broadcast network among Adults 25-54.

For the third consecutive night, Fox News managed to average a larger total audience than CBS. However, CBS continues to average more Adults 25-54.

How did network ratings compare with their respective Night 2 2020 DNC ratings?

  • Aug. 19, 2020: (Night 3 versus Night 2) 10-11:15 p.m. ET | Total Viewers / Night-to-Night % Change / A25-54 Demo/ Night-to-Night % Change

MSNBC: 6,464,000/ +23% /1,304,000/ +27%

CNN: 5,791,000 /+37% /1,703,000/ +34%

NBC:  2,526,000/+9% /805,000 / +36%

ABC:   2,484,000 / +11%/ 638,000 / +9%

Fox News:  2,152,000 /+1%  /480,000/ +12%

CBS: 1,989,000 /-4% / 533,000 /+11%

How did the networks stack up versus the third night of the 2016 DNC (Aug. 21, 2016)?

  • MSNBC was up 31% in total viewers, down 8% in adults 25-54
  • CNN was down 6% in total viewers and down 21% in adults 25-54
  • NBC was down 39% in total viewers and down 46% in adults 25-54
  • ABC was down 30% in total viewers and down 50% in adults 25-54
  • Fox News was down 10% in total viewers and down 27% in adults 25-54
  • CBS was down 30% in total viewers and down 42% in adults 25-54