On Night 1 of 2020 RNC, Fox News Delivers a Record 7 Million Viewers; Ratings for Other Networks Are Poor

By A.J. Katz 

*Nielsen update (6 p.m. ET): According to final live-plus-same-day data from Nielsen, the opening night of the 2020 RNC drew 17 million total viewers across 11 networks during the 10 p.m. hour. That’s up from the 15.8 million viewers across six networks reported earlier today.

That’s 14% less than what the Democrats drew on opening night of their convention (19.75 million), and 26% down from what the party drew on Night 1 of its 2016 convention (23.02 million).

Networks included are: ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, CNNe, Fox Business Network, Fox News, MSNBC, Newsmax (New) and Newsy.

Night 1 of the convention was carried live from Charlotte, N.C., Washington, D.C., and remotely from venues throughout the country. The night featured speeches from former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott.

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The opening night of the 2020 Republican National Convention was a more toned-down affair than many expected, featuring a number of speeches from Republican politicians, friends and Trump family members, augmented by some feel-good taped segments featuring President Trump and first responders.

What type of audience did the event garner?

Per fast national data from Nielsen (which will be adjusted up later today), the opening night of the 2020 RNC averaged a total of 15.8 million total viewers across six Nielsen-measured English broadcast and cable networks: CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, NBC, ABC and CBS. This total does not include streaming viewership figures, non-Nielsen-measured networks (like C-SPAN) or the Spanish-language broadcasters.

Opening night of the 2016 Republican National Convention averaged 22.8 million viewers across those six aforementioned networks, meaning the year-over-year trend was down 31%.

A total of 3.97 million adults 25-54 across six Nielsen-measured English-language networks watched Night 1 in the common coverage period of 10-11 p.m. ET. That’s a -44% drop from opening night 2016.

How did Night 1 of the RNC compare with Night 1 of the 2020 DNC?

The opening night of the DNC averaged 18.7 million viewers watching across six networks, per Nielsen fast national data. That number ballooned to 19.7 million TV viewers after additional networks and final live-plus-same-day data arrived later that day.

While the RNC’s 15.8 million opening night total will be adjusted up when additional data rolls in later today, it’s highly unlikely that it will approach 19.7 million the DNC captured on its opening night.

To be fair, opening night of the 2020 DNC was down 27% from opening night of the 2016 DNC, so the Republicans aren’t alone in seeing audience losses.

While viewership for opening night of the DNC was relatively widely distributed across the various networks carrying the proceedings, RNC viewership primarily took place on Fox News.

FNC averaged 7.06 million total viewers and 1.57 million adults 25-54 during the 10 p.m. ET hour, which was the common coverage period. No other network came anywhere close to that figure. In fact, that 7.06 million figure is a cable news record as far as convention coverage goes. FNC averaged more viewers than ABC, CBS and NBC combined.

Outside of Fox News, ratings were mediocre. CNN came in second place during the common coverage period, averaging just over 2 million total viewers in the 10 p.m. hour. MSNBC and the broadcast networks averaged between 1 and 2 million total viewers in that 10 p.m. ET hour.

ABC was the most-watched broadcast network for opening night RNC coverage, averaging 1.95 million total viewers. ABC averaged 2.44 million viewers on Night 1 of the DNC. NBC was the No. 1 broadcast network among adults 25-54, averaging 541,000 viewers. NBC averaged 676,000 adults 25-54 on opening night of the DNC.

  • Aug. 24: 10-11 p.m. ET | Total Viewers / Year-Over-Year Change % / A25-54 Demo/ Year-Over-Year Change %

Fox News: 7,063,000/+11% /1,572,000 / -2%

CNN: 2,009,000/ -49% /606,000 / -56%

ABC: 1,948,000/ -47% /521,000 / -58%

NBC: 1,740,000/ -56% /541,000 / -67%

MSNBC: 1,570,000/ -21% /308,000 / -39%

CBS: 1,479,000/ -50% /424,000 / -46%

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