Television viewership of the first virtual convention was down about 25% from the equivalent night in 2016, but Democratic officials said digital tune-in was up, reflecting a years-long shift in viewing habits.
Overall the television and digital data for Monday night of the Democratic National Convention showed that the two-hour event reached a broad audience but wasn’t a breakout success.
According to Nielsen the six biggest TV networks averaged a combined total of 19 million viewers during the 10 p.m. hour, which was the only hour that NBC, ABC and CBS showed live.
The same six networks had almost 25 million viewers combined during the first night of the DNC in 2016.
The two highest-rated channels were MSNBC, with nearly 5.2 million viewers in the 10 p.m. hour, and CNN, with 4.8 million.
Fox News, which is typically No. 1 in prime time, averaged far fewer viewers at 10 p.m., about 2.1 million, which reflects its core conservative audience’s disdain for Democrats like Michelle Obama, who delivered Monday’s keynote.
The differences with this year’s convention are innumerable – in 2016, there was a physical convention location and days of live TV coverage from the host city, which tends to stoke interest in the event.
On the other hand, the pandemic and the Democratic party’s fierce opposition to President Trump were factors that could have helped overall viewership this year.
The Nielsen data only counts traditional TV. Streaming services are increasingly cutting into TV viewership and providing people with more ways to consume big events.
Joe Biden’s campaign said the convention speeches and videos were live-streamed by 15 different platforms, including YouTube and Twitter. Speakers like such as Michelle Obama shared their remarks on their own social media accounts, as well.
Biden national press secretary TJ Ducklo said at least 10.2 million people watched live internet streams of the convention on Monday night.
The online viewership is not directly comparable to television, since the data is measured differently, but Ducklo said the 2020 streaming numbers “shattered” the 2016 numbers.
“We are producing a digital convention, and people are watching,” Ducklo said.