* 20 million Americans tune in to primetime TV speeches
* Twitter feeds light up as audiences turn to social media
* Ann Romney speech reaction is positive; Christie mixed
By Christine Kearney
NEW YORK, Aug 29 Howling wind, driving rain and
potential damage in New Orleans from Hurricane Isaac hasn't yet
dampened U.S. Republican convention media coverage, but early TV
ratings proved only so-so while many people instead "tuned in"
to social networks.
Republican fears that Isaac's battering of the U.S. Gulf
Coast would steal the spotlight eased on Wednesday, a day after
a key speech by Ann Romney, wife of Republican presidential
candidate Mitt Romney, stole the show from New Jersey Governor
But the biggest problem for the Republicans was less the
hurricane and more dwindling interest in convention-watching by
the general public, experts said.
"Isaac is sucking out a lot of the oxygen but that's because
there wasn't much oxygen in the first place," said Sherry
Bebitch Jeffe, senior fellow at the University of Southern
California's Price School of Public Policy. "Voters and
certainly the media are aware these conventions have become
hour-long infomercials. There is very little suspense."
Ahead of Tuesday, news of Isaac's path toward the U.S. Gulf
Coast revived memories of Hurricane Katrina's destruction seven
years ago and threw a spotlight on something the Republican
Party would rather forget in its convention week -- the botched
relief efforts under George W. Bush, the last Republican
But even as some networks moved their anchors from the
convention in Tampa to Isaac's landfall in New Orleans to cover
both events, those interested in politics tuned in to hear Ann
Romney personalize her husband and Christie tackle the Obama
White House -- whether on TV or the Internet.
Preliminary data from Nielsen Media Research showed that
more than 20 million Americans watched TV coverage of the
Republican convention on Tuesday night in the 10 p.m. EDT hour
when Ann Romney took the stage. By contrast, 37.6 million people
watched Democratic President Barack Obama's most recent State of
the Union speech.
About half of the convention's TV audience watched on cable
news networks, as Fox News took the lion's share with an average
6.9 million viewers - triple its usual audience. About 11
million watched on broadcast networks NBC, ABC and CBS, which
reduced coverage this year to just one hour per night.
Comparisons to the equivalent night in 2008 were not
available, but TV audiences for U.S. political conventions have
fallen steadily in the last 10 years, with the exception of 2008
when little-known Republican Sarah Palin captured attention.
CONVENTION COVERAGE CHANGES
But the story is different on the Web where, social media
experts said, Americans are watching the convention differently
from four years ago when Twitter and Facebook were little known.
Thousands of people visited social media sites to follow the
convention live across Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and YouTube.
Topics such as #GOP2012, #RNC and #Romney were high-trending on
Twitter, alongside hashtags for Hurricane Isaac.
Judging by both pundits and tweets, Ann Romney's rousing,
high-stakes speech lined with simplistic talk of love was a
show-stopper, succeeding in its goal major of connecting
Republicans with female voters and humanizing husband Mitt
"I can't remember a better convention speech by a would-be
first lady than Ann Romney delivered," wrote David Frum of The
Daily Beast. "Ann Steals the Show" ran the headline on The
Huffington Post and CNN delivered the caption "Ann Romney wows
the RNC" and quoted reaction as "electric."
An opinion piece in The New York Times said she had less
impact when comparing herself to mothers struggling to raise
children, but connected more in her speech's second half when
speaking realistically about her husband privileged background.
Ann Romney gathered the most Twitter mentions of the night,
peaking at a high of 6,195 tweets per minute at the end of her
speech when her husband joined her on stage.
The Twitter Political Index measuring tweeters' feeling
about a candidate on scale of 1 to 100, 1 being not favorable,
saw Ann Romney's score rise from 45 to 83 after the speech.
Facebook and CNN's election insights website also showed a
58 percent increase in users talking about Mitt Romney on
Tuesday with the number peaking during Ann Romney's speech.
And traditional media outlets such as the Washington Post,
New York Times, CNN and Reuters added to social media coverage,
live tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, streaming video, and
giving former TV watchers more ways to keep up to date.
The Republican National Committee's own live stream on
YouTube has attracted 292,000 views since Monday and has some
Christie's speech was the second most tweeted-about event at
the convention Tuesday, peaking at 6,079 tweets a minute.
Unlike Romney, reactions were more mixed. Fox News praised
the speech but included debate about whether the governor, who
focused more on his achievements in New Jersey than expected,
was hard enough on Obama.
(Additional reporting by Jill Serjeant and Piya Sinha-Roy;
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte, Mary Milliken and Lisa Shumaker)