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Clinton vs. Cowboys: Who won the ratings war?

It was a battle of television titans in prime time Wednesday night - former President Bill Clinton vs. the Dallas Cowboys.

It was a split decision, with the Cowboys winning convincingly in Texas, but with Clinton edging out the NFL season opener nationally. Granted, Clinton may have had an advantage because the 25.1 million viewers he drew nationally includes multiple broadcast and cable news networks, while the Cowboys' viewership of almost 22 million came from only NBC, the broadcast network that carried it.

But in North Texas, it was the Dallas Cowboys who ruled the air waves.

Here, in Dallas-Fort Worth, 48 percent of those watching TV during the 9 o'clock hour - when the Democratic convention kicked into high gear and the Dallas Cowboys were deep into their season opener against the New York Giants - tuned into the football game, Nielsen Media Research shows.

About 1.3 million local viewers watched the game on Channel 5 (KXAS), compared with those tuning into the convention, which included 68,000 on Channel 8 (WFAA), 35,000 on Channel 11 (KTVT), 60,000 on the Fox News Channel, 77,000 on MSNBC and 38,000 on CNN, Nielsen estimates showed.

"I would be surprised if the Cowboys didn't beat Clinton," said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. "Even churches cancel events here when the Cowboys are on.

"The biggest rule for churches in Texas is that, regardless of how long your service is, it had better be over in time for the Cowboys' game."

Clinton's speech, which ended up being 48 minutes, was a highly anticipated part of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. this week. More than 7.5 million viewers tuned in across the country to watch the speech that prompted more than 22,000 tweets per minute on the Twitter social networking site.

But it just couldn't overcome the interest in the Cowboys game.

Even when both the game and the speech spilled into the 10 o'clock hour, viewership of the game did drop, but still more local viewers were faithful to football than politics.

At that time, Channel 5 hung on to about 929,000 local viewers, Channel 8 went up to 116,000, Channel 11 went up to 52,000, the Fox News Channel went up to 74,000, MSNBC rose to 82,000 and CNN dropped to 33,000, Nielsen ratings show.

"It's really unfortunate that they (convention organizers) couldn't have anticipated the football game and worked around it," said Bruce Buchanan, a government professor at the University of Texas in Austin who specializes in presidential politics. "This is the first game after a long off season, the Cowboys are the highest rated pro-football team and they are up against the World Champions from last year.

"It was a special game."

The national audience of nearly 22 million viewers that watched the Cowboys' 24-17 victory was smaller than viewership of last year's season opener pitting Green Bay against New Orleans that drew 27.2 million viewers, Nielsen Media Research shows.

Both events had fewer viewers in that hour than Michelle Obama's speech Tuesday, the first night of the convention. About 26.2 million people tuned in to hear the first lady, Nielsen reported.

This report contains material from The New York Times.

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610

Twitter: @annatinsley

Robert Philpot, 817-390-7872

Twitter: @rphilpot

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