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Convention coverage ratings reveal local, national differences

This is what I’m thinking about the coverage of the two political conventions:

One of the more interesting dynamics in Western New York is the difference between the audiences for the two conventions on WNED-TV, the local public broadcaster.

On every corresponding night, the Democratic Convention had significantly higher local ratings percentage-wise on the PBS channel than the Republican Convention during the hours after 10 p.m. This is despite the fact that the Republican Convention had slightly more viewers overall locally than the Democratic Convention.

The difference was most pronounced when presidential nominees Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton spoke a week apart. In Western New York, the winner was too close to call. But it wasn’t close at all on the local PBS affiliate.

On Trump night, WNED-TV averaged a 1.8 rating.

On Clinton night, the station averaged a 3.0.

On the other three nights of the convention, the Democratic advantage ranged from 0.3 to 0.9 ratings points.

Here’s the scorecard:

Monday: Democratic Convention 2.2, Republican Convention 1.3

Tuesday: Democrats 2.2, Republicans 1.9

Wednesday: Democrats 1.9, Republicans 1.4

PBS coverage was fair and balanced but the difference in the audience size plays to the Republican narrative that PBS is a liberal organization that appeals more to Democrats. It just as easily could be reflective of the fact that most Republican voters here and nationally watch Fox News and there aren’t as many of their viewers available for PBS.

Nationally, more viewers watched Trump’s address than watched Clinton’s address.

Brian Stelter of CNN reported that Trump’s speech had 32.2 million viewers and Clinton’s speech 29.8 million viewers on 10 broadcast and cable channels. However, when he added Clinton’s audience on PBS, which wasn’t included in the 10 channels, Trump’s victory margin was reduced from 2.4 million viewers to 900,000.

It is unclear if the extra time that Trump spoke – about 18 minutes – helped his viewership totals.

Overall locally, Clinton almost proved to be as big a rating grabber in Western New York on Thursday as Trump did a week earlier.

Indeed, the math is so complicated that you could say it is too close to call.

From 10 to 11 p.m., when Clinton’s daughter Chelsea introduced her and the first woman to get a major party’s presidential nomination started her speech, the collective local rating for the three broadcast and three cable channels was a 17.5. Channel 2, the local NBC affiliate, had the highest-rating with a 4.7.

A week earlier, in the 10 p.m. hour, when Ivanka Trump introduced her father and he began his speech, the local rating for the six channels was a 19.0.

From 11 to 11:30 p.m. Thursday – about the time Hillary Clinton finished her speech – the six channels had a collective rating of 19.8.

That was slightly higher than Trump did from 11 to 11:45 p.m. – about the time Trump finished his speech. The collective rating was a 19.2.

If you add the ratings for WNED-TV, the local PBS affiliate, the viewership for the two nights was extremely close.

WNED averaged a 3.0 rating for the speeches by the Clintons and a 1.8 rating for the speeches by the Trumps.


One of my favorite analysts on any network is NBC’s Nicolle Wallace, who worked for Republicans George W. Bush and Jeb Bush and was a senior adviser for the McCain-Palin campaign. She isn’t the typical analyst who finds any way she can to defend her party; she actually is about as objective as any partisan analyst can be expected to be and sees the good and bad performances by both parties. One morning after the Democratic Convention, she conceded the party earned “a 10 out of 10” in accomplishing what it set out to do.

Van Jones, a CNN analyst on the Democratic side, is another one of my favorite analysts. A former member of the Obama administration, he always seems to say something smart in an interesting and clever way and occasionally sees what the other side is aiming to do.

My least favorite analyst is Jeffrey Lord, the Trump supporter who did cartwheels to find anything negative he could after listening to excellent Democratic speeches. As Wallace illustrates, sometimes it is just best to concede the other side did well.


I’m not sure CBS late-night host Stephen Colbert got the convention bounces he needed because his shows often were delayed so long after the local news that many potential viewers went to bed. That is why it was smart of CBS to carry a highlight show of the post-Democratic convention programs on Friday, with recorded introductions of the segments introduced by Colbert. There were some very funny bits during the week, highlighted by a guest appearance by Jon Stewart.

By the way, HBO programming chief Casey Bloys told television critics in Los Angeles last week that Stewart’s new animated political parody program may premiere with excerpts in September or October and eventually become a half-hour show.

“He is establishing an animation studio,” Bloys reportedly told critics. “He wants to get material out on a daily basis. The idea is that it’s an animated parody of a cable news network in an ‘Onion’-like portal. It will be his voice, in his actual voice, and his tone.”

Based on his Colbert appearance, that should mean plenty of Trump bashing.


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