21.8 Million Total Viewers Watched the Final Night of the 2020 DNC, Up 2% From Night 3

By A.J. Katz 

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*5:20 p.m. ET update: According to the most current data from Nielsen, an estimated 24.6 million people tuned in to watch the final night of the 2020 Democratic National Convention on Thursday. The final night was presented live across 12 networks, and featured former Vice President Joe Biden formally accepting his nomination as the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.

While coverage varied by network, all 12 aired live coverage from approximately 10 p.m. ET to 11:30 p.m. ET.

The 12 networks: ABC, CBS, NBC, Telemundo, Univision, PBS, CNN, CNNe, Fox Business, Fox News Channel, MSNBC and Newsy.

The 24.6 million total viewer count represents an 8% gain from the third night of the DNC, which drew 22.8 million viewers. It’s worth noting that the third night of the DNC was carried across only 10 networks, as opposed to 12.

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Original Post (3:18 p.m. ET)

Last night, former Vice President Joe Biden officially accepted the Democratic Party nomination for president, wrapping up the 2020 Democratic National Convention with a fiery, yet heartfelt address to the nation. Biden’s address capped off what was a rather impressive four-day technological feat by the DNC. The other side of the political aisle might be able to walk away from the convention impressed at what the Democrats were able to put together, even if they don’t support what they stand for.

But this particular story is about Nielsen ratings. Could ratings for the final night of the DNC match those of previous night? It was always going to be tough, considering Night 3 featured speeches from former secretary of state and 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former President Barack Obama and concluded with an acceptance speech from the vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris during the common coverage time period of 10-11:15 p.m. ET.

However, according to early data from Nielsen, Night 4 of the DNC drew a total of 21.8 million total TV viewers across six networks during the common coverage period. Compared to Night 3 (Tuesday) common coverage, that’s up 2%. That’s also a 17% increase from opening night common coverage (10-11:15 p.m. ET).

However, the 21.8 million figure represents an 22% decline from the fourth and final night of the 2016 DNC, which drew an estimated 27.8 million viewers during the common coverage period of 10-11:40 p.m. ET. That 27.8 million viewer number was also per preliminary Nielsen data.

The six networks that are included in the above Night 4 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. Again, this is just the preliminary data, and this post will be updated when the final numbers are in.

Looking at Adults 25-54, an average total of 5.14 million from the demo watched across six TV networks last night during the common coverage period. That’s down 1% from Night 3, but up 15% from opening night.

Unfortunately, the final night of the 2020 DNC lost 43% of its Adults 25-54 versus Night 4 of 2016. That said, it’s likely many of those younger news consumers moved from TV in 2016 to digital in 2020, so that massive drop-off might be a bit deceiving.

If we look at 2020 relative to 2016, 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 most certainly outperform this year’s DNC on the ratings front, primarily because of President Trump and the flashy event he undoubtedly has planned.

Next, we’ll look at Night 4 ratings on a network-by-network basis.

MSNBC and CNN split honors for the fourth 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 6.14 million Total Viewer average (down 5% from Night 3). The next closest finisher in Total Viewers was 5.57 million for CNN (down 4% from Night 3)

CNN was the go-to network among Adults 25-54 throughout the week, and averaged just under 1.7 million demo viewers last night. That’s just a 1% drop from the prior night.

ABC was the No. 1 broadcast network last night, winning for the second time this week in Total Viewers and for the first time this week among Adults 25-54.

Fox News finished ahead of CBS and NBC last night in the key categories, and was the only cable news network to post night-to-night growth. That was likely due to President Trump calling into Hannity in the 9 p.m. hour, and millions of Hannity viewers deciding to stick with the network into the 10 p.m. hour.

Fox News beating CBS and NBC, the latter of which traditionally dominates FNC in Democratic Party-focused events, is impressive.

CBS was the least-watched network for the fourth consecutive night, and took last place among Adults 25-54.

How did network ratings compare with their respective Night 3 2020 DNC ratings?

  • Aug. 20, 2020: (Night 4 versus Night 3) 10-11:15 p.m. ET | Total Viewers / Night-to-Night % Change / A25-54 Demo/ Night-to-Night % Change

MSNBC: 6,146,000/ -5% /1,247,000/-4%

CNN: 5,565,000/-4% /1,690,000/-1%

ABC:  2,972,000/+20% /799,000/+25%

Fox News:  2,955,000/ +37%/ 639,000/+33%

NBC:  2,154,000/-15% / -568,000/-29%

CBS: 1,985,000/flat /473,000/-11%

How did the networks stack up versus the final night of the 2016 DNC (Aug. 22, 2016)?

  • MSNBC was up 17% in Total Viewers, down 18% in Adults 25-54.
  • CNN was down 26% in Total Viewers and down 40% in Adults 25-54.
  • NBC was down 52% in Total Viewers and down 67% in Adults 25-54.
  • ABC was down 23% in Total Viewers and down 42% in Adults 25-54.
  • Fox News was down 3% in Total Viewers and down 19% in Adults 25-54.
  • CBS was down 46% in Total Viewers and down 63% in Adults 25-54.

President Trump was interviewed on Hannity in the 9 p.m. hour. Fox News’ DNC coverage, which started at 10 p.m., was up double digits from the previous night. The other networks delivered mixed ratings on the final night compared to the previous night. FNC’s performance—lifted by Trump’s Hannity appearance—is the reason the final night of the 2020 DNC was its highest-rated night of the week.

So in essence, Trump talking on television was a key reason why the DNC achieved such strong ratings on its final night.

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