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CAMPAIGN 2000

An Issue Voters Can Agree On --Few Tune In for Conventions

August 19, 2000|BRIAN LOWRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If television ratings are any indication, the presidential race promises to be close.

An estimated 26 million people watched Democratic nominee Al Gore's convention address Thursday, less than 1 million more than watched Republican counterpart George W. Bush two weeks earlier, based on estimates assembled by Nielsen Media Research.

Ratings for both conventions reflect waning interest on the part of the public as well as the toll taken by the proliferation of viewing options. Including PBS, the three major broadcast networks and three all-news cable channels, about 17.5% of U.S. homes tuned in the Democratic National Convention on an average night over its four-day duration, versus about 16% watching the Republicans. Both represent all-time lows based on Nielsen data going back to 1960.

Nearly 30% of U.S. homes watched the conventions in 1960 on ABC, CBS and NBC, when most TV viewers received only a handful of channels. Today, thanks to cable and satellite dishes, the average home has access to 60 channels.

ABC, which aired its convention coverage immediately after the popular quiz show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" in most of the United States, commanded the largest portion of the audience for Gore's speech, with an estimated 7.65 million viewers. CNN remained the most-watched cable network.

By way of comparison, the Thursday edition of "Millionaire" exceeded the combined audience for the speech on ABC, CBS and NBC, attracting 19.8 million viewers. The UPN network bested ABC's individual rating with an estimated 7.7 million people viewing its wrestling program, "WWF Smackdown!"

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