Updated: Surpassing Obama, McCain Speech Draws Record 38.9 Million Viewers

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Republican Presidential nominee John McCain’s acceptance speech Thursday night turned up about 500,000 more viewers than Barack Obama’s at the Democratic National Convention the week before.

Senator McCain (Ariz.) garnered 38.9 million average viewers from 10 p.m. to 11:15 p.m. Sept. 4, according to Nielsen Media Research data, the most ever for convention coverage, topping the 38.4 million who watched Obama’s acceptance speech from Denver Aug. 28.

For the third straight night, Fox News Channel carried the Nielsens in terms of average viewership. With 9.2 million for McCain’s moment, Fox News matched its delivery from its coverage of GOP Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s address Wednesday. Those numbers were the most ever for cable news convention coverage and were tied for the third-highest total in the history of the network.


In addition to the three cable news services and the Big 3 networks, McCain’s speech from the Republican National Convention in St. Paul was covered by Spanish-language broadcasters Univision and Telemundo, whereas Obama’s address was also presented by African-American-targeted TV One and BET.

McCain’s delivery was 41% higher than the 27.6 million that watched President Bush’s acceptance speech on the final night of the RNC in 2004.

Boosted by the 37.2 million that watched Palin’s address Wednesday night, the RNC averaged 34.5 million viewers over its nights from Minnesota, according to Nielsen (planned common coverage on Labor Day was scrapped in the wake of Hurricane Gustav). That was 53% greater than the 22.6 million the RNC averaged in the 10 p.m. hour back in 2004 over four nights (the six broadcast and cable news channels covered the second, third and fourth nights four years ago, while the Big 3 sat out the opener).

More pointedly, the RNC eclipsed the four-day DNC average of 30.2 million viewers from Denver in that hour by 14%. Similarly, the current election cycle average prompted a 49% upturn from John Kerry’s DNC in 2004, which averaged 20.4 million viewers over four nights (all six news networks covered the 10 p.m. hour on the first, third and final night, while the Big 3 elected not to cover the second back then).


FNC topped NBC by 500,000 as the Peacock network’s 8.7 million average no doubt was aided by the lead-in of the 2008 National Football League opener between the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants and Washington Redskins, which drew a 10.1 overnight rating. More beneficial: the contest ended just before 10 p.m., 10 minutes before McCain commenced his address.

ABC was third with 6 million viewers on average, versus 5.3 million for CBS, 4.8 million for CNN and 2.5 million for MSNBC.

Fox News -- whose 9.2 million viewers on both Sept. 3 and Sept. 4 trailed only the 9.7 million who tuned in President Bush’s address March 19, 2003 on the eve of the Iraq invasion and the 9.5 million who watched his debate with John Kerry on Sept. 30, 2004 -- was second with the news demo Thursday. The network pulled in 3.2 million adults 25 to 54, 1.5 million less than NBC's 4.7 million. ABC (2.5 million) was third, followed by CBS (2.4 million), CNN (2.1 million) and MSNBC (1.06 million).

In primetime, FNC, which featured an Obama interview on The O’Reilly Factor, averaged 7.4 million watchers, the best ever for its convention coverage and third in network history -- again behind Bush’s Iraq speech (8.2 million) and the aforementioned Kerry debate (7.5 million).

Over 6.6 million watched the first part of Bill O'Reilly's interview with Obama on the Sept. 4 Factor, the second most in the show's history behind the 7.3 million for the March 19, 2003 edition.

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