Don’t let the media fool you into thinking that Ryan’s speech pulled in low ratings. This story is running in a number of outlets and it relies on a comparison between the ratings for Palin’s speech in 2008 and Ryan’s now.
An average of 21.9 million viewers tuned into the nine broadcast and cable networks that were broadcasting convention proceedings Wednesday night between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m., according to Nielsen. That was 41% less than the 37.2 million who tuned in the same night four years ago, the research firm said.
This would be significant if not for the fact that TV viewership has been falling for a while. A convention held in 2012 is not going to have the same ratings as a convention held in 2008. If you watched any part of the 2012 RNC over the internet, then you already know why.
Television ratings have fallen as internet use has gone up and internet viewership ratings are still not reliable. YouTube ratings will have to be factored in along with traditional ratings and that still will not give us the whole picture. The traditional measures of viewership just don’t apply anymore and that’s neither good nor bad, it’s just the way it is. We have no idea how Ryan’s viewership compares to Palin’s. We just don’t.
Of the most-watched television events, almost all of them took place before the dominance of the internet. No Super Bowl that took place since the mid 90’s has scored anywhere near the same ratings.
Compare Super Bowl XLII in 2008 at 48.66 million with Super Bowl XlVI with 50.15 million in 1983. You can see the same difference with television finales. The newer a broadcast is, the lower its ratings are by comparison. This doesn’t mean that it’s unpopular, it just means that the way we watch things has changed.