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 V.16 No.29 | July 19 - 25, 2007 

Thin Line

What 30 Million People?

Want to know if the mainstream media has a conservative or a liberal bias? Look no further than the widespread coverage of the recent “Live Earth” concert. The 24-hour music event, running July 9 and 10, was intended to raise awareness of global warming and other environmental issues. Shortly after the broadcast ended, conservative news sites like the Drudge Report were straining at their leashes to declare the concert a failure of epic proportions.

That’s hardly surprising. Conservative pundits would never pass up a chance to bash the concert’s organizer, Al Gore. What was surprising, though, was how closely the mainstream media parroted this party line. “Live Earth Ratings on Cool Side,” “Live Earth’s Ratings are Terrible,” “Live Earth Doesn't Play Well With Viewers”: These were just some of the choice headlines that greeted readers on the Monday following the event.

Over and over again, newspapers repeated the grim statistic that a mere 2.75 million people had tuned in to watch NBC’s coverage of the concert. Given the time of year (summer) and the day of the week (Saturday), 2.75 million is actually a fairly average number. The July Fourth week is traditionally the lowest-rated week of the year for TV viewing, and NBC typically pulls in just under 3 million viewers this time of year. But the most glaring error the self-satisfied doomsayers committed was their refusal to acknowledge that Live Earth was broadcast on NBC, the Sundance Channel, Bravo, CNBC, MSNBC, Universal HD and Telemundo.

In fact, Live Earth helped break records across the board. Bravo, which ran 18 hours of the concert, saw its largest Saturday night audience ever. The cable channel reported 7.94 million unduplicated viewers watching all or part of the telecast. The concert was also streamed live on MSN.com, which recorded more than 10 million people watching on their computersa record for the most viewers online at one time. XM satellite radio climbed on board as well, dedicating six whole channels to the event.

Add up the numbers from just the NBC Universal stations (NBC, Bravo, Telemundo and CNBC) and you get 19 million viewers. Sundance and Universal HD aren’t covered by the Nielsen ratings, so there’s no clear way of telling how many people watched it there. But tally up all the numbers (including online viewers) and you get something north of 30 million. The Super Bowl, the most-watched event of the year, is lucky to garner 25 million viewers.

The arrogance of mainstream media is clear in its coverage of Live Earth: Only other mainstream media like NBC counts. But we’re living in a different era now. Increasingly large numbers of people choose cable TV over broadcast networks. Many listeners are fleeing terrestrial radio for satellite. Some choose to eschew traditional TV/radio entirely for Internet downloads. Just because you refuse to count them doesn’t mean the viewers aren’t out there.

 

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