When the MTV Video Music Awards were scheduled, inexplicably, for the final night of the Democratic National Convention, some took it as a sign of American decline: Surely, viewers would be siphoned away from civic discourse and into the realm of Rihanna and One Direction. After some preemptive howling, MTV even moved the start time of its awards show, ensuring that at least it would end before President Obama’s acceptance speech.
The fears might have been unwarranted. It turns out that only 6.1 million people watched the VMAs, a sharp drop from the 12.4 million who viewed the ceremony on a Sunday in 2011. (That was the night Beyonce broke a Twitter record by showing off her baby bump.) Meanwhile, Obama’s speech drew 35.7 million viewers across the broadcast and cable networks. A week earlier, Mitt Romney drew 30.3 million viewers for his Republcan National Convention speech. Overall, convention ratings did decline from previous years, but not as disastrously as they did for the VMAs. And, contrary to some misleading hype, TLC’s “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” did not draw more viewers than either convention.
Whatever their flaws, the conventions managed to put on entertaining shows — and if people are tuning in, that can’t be bad for democracy. If they’re talking about it, all the better. Last week, Obama’s speech set its own record for political moments on Twitter: 52,756 tweets per minute.