Shortly after the start of the Republican National Convention on Monday, President Trump’s former campaign manager Brad Parscale complained that Fox News had repeatedly cut away.
“Can’t believe I have to watch the convention on @CNN,” Mr. Parscale carped on Twitter. “Unbelievable.”
Plenty of viewers ignored his advice.
A significant portion of the convention’s TV audience on Monday — 42 percent — watched live on Fox News, one of the biggest ratings days in the network’s history, according to Nielsen. Fox News typically leads the pack during a Republican convention, but its dominance during Monday’s Trump-centric spectacle was striking.
Total TV viewership for the remote Republican gathering, however, fell short of the Democrats’ convention opener. About 17 million people watched between 10 and 11 p.m., a program that featured Donald J. Trump Jr. and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, down from the 19.7 million who tuned in a week earlier for speeches by Senator Bernie Sanders and Michelle Obama.
President Trump, a former reality-TV star, has a well-known fixation on ratings, and he is sure to take note of the overnight figures. Aides to the president even hired two producers from his show “The Apprentice” to spice up this year’s convention programming.
Because Monday’s convention broadcast ended about seven minutes early, Republicans allowed network pundits to have the last words of the night. The early cutoff could have depressed ratings, too, if TV viewers switched away for what amounted to the final 11 percent of the 10 p.m. hour.
Not surprisingly, viewership of MSNBC, which is popular with liberals, fell sharply. After easily winning last week’s Democratic convention ratings race, MSNBC drew 1.57 million people on Monday, below ABC, CBS and CNN. That was down from an average nightly audience of 5.7 million last week.
Nielsen numbers do not include online and streaming viewers, an audience that is difficult to credibly measure, and fewer Americans watch live events on TV sets these days. Monday’s total live TV audience fell 26 percent from opening night of the 2016 Republican convention, roughly the same as the Democrats’ 24 percent decline.
Mr. Trump was watching on TV — and, like Mr. Parscale, he had questions about the networks’ editorial choices.
On Tuesday, the president issued a rare vote of confidence in CNN, writing on Twitter that he was “very appreciative” for its wall-to-wall convention coverage on Monday. “That was really good for CNN, while at the same time being good for our Country,” Mr. Trump wrote.
In fact, CNN’s and Fox News’s programming on Monday was more or less in keeping with how they handled the Democrats’ gathering.
Because CNN is carrying the conventions with minimal interruptions, it was the best option besides C-SPAN and PBS on Monday for viewers seeking a raw feed of events. CNN anchors broke in occasionally to correct falsehoods and baseless charges lodged by several Republican speakers.
On Fox News, Sean Hannity dipped in and out of the convention during his show’s usual 9 p.m. hour, cutting off some speakers, including Kimberly Guilfoyle, a Trump fund-raising official and former Fox News host. (He did the same with Democratic speakers last week, though he was far more critical then.) At 10 p.m., Fox News began its formal coverage, which was split between commentary and onstage remarks.
In an unusual tiff, the major TV networks lodged a protest with Republican officials on Tuesday after the Trump campaign agreed to provide Mr. Hannity with additional access to major convention speeches at the White House and at Fort McHenry in Baltimore. During a heated conference call, network executives told Republican officials that it was unfair to grant additional access to Mr. Hannity, a major Trump ally.
Because of safety restrictions relating to the coronavirus, broadcasters are reliant this week on a single, shared audio and video feed of the Republicans’ events. (The same format was in place at the Democratic National Convention.) No major network besides Fox News was granted the special access. Trump campaign officials agreed to some changes after the call.