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When Sarah Palin Talked, People Listened

Palin's speech Wednesday night at the Republican convention was the second-most-watched acceptance speech at any political convention.
Palin's speech Wednesday night at the Republican convention was the second-most-watched acceptance speech at any political convention. (By Chip Somodevilla -- Getty Images)
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By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, September 5, 2008

The hockey mom may be running for the wrong office.

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A whopping 37.2 million people tuned in to watch vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's electrifying acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention Wednesday night, making it the second-most-watched political convention acceptance speech ever -- presidential or veep.

Palin's riveting, venom-infused speech at [Utility Company] Center in St. Paul, Minn., attracted nearly as many viewers as Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama's record-setting haul of 38.4 million last Thursday. His acceptance speech at [Investment Management Company] Field in Denver stands as the most-watched acceptance speech on record.

Like Obama, Palin copped more viewers than the Beijing Games Opening Ceremonies (34.2 million) a few weeks back.

The choice of the virtually unknown Alaska governor to be Sen. John McCain's running mate breathed life back into the quadrennial two-week orgy of conventioneering by the two major political parties. Palin's speech had been forecast to draw lots of curious viewers at home, but no one was predicting this kind of number.

In fact, Palin already has won the first face-off with her Democratic counterpart, Sen. Joseph Biden. Her ratings performance stomped on the 24 million who watched Biden deliver his acceptance speech one week earlier.

Palin also outstripped the 26 million who watched non-candidate Hillary Clinton's speech on the second night of the Democratic confab.

And, Palin did it all with fewer networks. Her total includes viewers on NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC, Nielsen said yesterday.

The Democratic convention was also covered by BET and TV One, two networks targeting African American viewers; they are not telecasting the GOP convention. And Obama's speech was covered live on Spanish-language networks Telemundo and Univision.

On the other hand, number-crunching Nielsen Media Research gave Palin the advantage of a larger sandbox than the one the Democrats got to play in one week earlier. Nielsen's updated universe estimates -- a.k.a. the number of TV households in the country -- took effect this past Monday. That TV universe grew by nearly 2 million homes, which adds substantially more than 2 million additional viewers in the pool.

Palin's numbers do not include viewing on PBS; nor have any of the other Democratic or Republican convention numbers we've reported this week and last. Nielsen has not included the public television network in any of its statistics for either party's convention. PBS has been putting out its own estimates, numbers that Nielsen said it cannot vouch for. PBS's numbers are based on overnight ratings, not final national ratings, and are for the 56 metered markets only -- which when you are writing about an event airing live across the country produces a very unreliable number.

Fox News Channel was the network of choice for Palin watchers. The cable news network logged more than 9 million viewers in the 10 p.m. hour, when Palin was accepting, whomping the 8 million-ish who chose CNN for Obama-viewing last Thursday. FNC now holds the record for the most watched night of convention viewing ever.

NBC had to settle for a distant second with 7.7 million viewers, followed by CNN's 6.2 million, ABC's 5.7 million, CBS's 4.6 million and MSNBC's 3.4 million.


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