McCain beats Obama — in the ratings

John McCain’s speech Thursday night drew 500,000 more viewers than Barack Obama’s record-setting speech a week earlier, Nielsen Media Research reports. More than 38.9 million watched McCain accept the Republican nomination for president on eight networks, according to preliminary television ratings.

Last week, 38.4 million watched Obama accept his party’s nomination — including 7.5 million African Americans, more than twice as many as watched McCain’s address. Five million more white viewers watched the Republican than watched the Democrat. Obama’s audience blasted previous records for convention speeches.

TV critics speculate McCain benefitted from NBC’s broadcast of the first regular season NFL game between the New York Giants and Washington Redskins, which ended right before McCain’s speech started.

On Wednesday night, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin drew nearly as many viewers as Obama in her first prime-time speech, with more than 37 million watching her accept the vice presidential nomination.

The Nielsen numbers don’t include PBS or C-Span viewers, or online audiences and households using digital video recorders. PBS estimates 2.7 million watched its coverage of the RNC Thursday, compared with 3.5 million Obama viewers. With those figures added in, Obama edged McCain slightly in the live audience contest.

On average, viewership of this year’s conventions is two- to three-times the audience for the parties’ 2004 gatherings. Nielsen measured viewers for McCain’s speech on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, Telemundo, and Univision. Two networks — BET and TV One — carried Obama’s speech but didn’t broadcast McCain’s.

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