The 2008 Democratic and Republican Party conventions drew a bigger average nightly television audience than did the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympic Games, according to recent research by University of Oklahoma scholars Jill A. Edy and Miglena Daradanova.
Most media pundits and journalists insist that the national nominating conventions are a dying institution that draws few viewers and produces no news. However, Edy and Daradanova found that over the last four decades, the average size of the nightly audience for the conventions was larger than the audience for the opening night of the Summer Olympic Games unless the Games were held in the United States. The lone exception was the 2000 Games in Sydney, which marginally outdrew the 2000 nominating conventions.
The study also shows that while audiences for network entertainment programming continue to decline substantially, the audience for the conventions has stabilized and may even have begun to grow again. Today, nearly half of the convention audience watches it on cable, and during the first two days of the 2008 Republican National Convention, the cable audience was bigger than the broadcast audience.
“Academics and pundits talk about how much the audience for the conventions has declined over the years, but since cable television came on the scene, the size of the audience for all types of programming has declined,” said Edy. “We thought it was important to compare the convention ratings to other television ‘events’ to get a clearer picture of how the conventions stacked up in the current media environment.”
The research relies on Nielsen ratings points for measures of audience size. Using the Nielsen ratings lets the researchers examine the changes in audience size while taking into account the growth in the U.S. population over the last four decades. The authors compare the average size of the audience for both conventions to the audience for the Olympics opening ceremony held in the same year.
Edy and Daradanova speculate that one reason the size of the convention audience is underestimated by journalists, pundits, and network executives is because the advertising revenues from airing the conventions are split among so many different networks. They argue, however, that any network programming that drew an audience as big as that for the political conventions would be in no danger of cancellation.
CONTACT: Jill A. Edy, Associate Professor of Communication, University of Oklahoma; (405) 325-5051; email@example.com.
- Download “Convention Wisdom: Putting National Party Convention Ratings in Context” by Jill A. Edy and Miglena Daradanova.