(Updates with final ratings data)
By Helen Coster
Aug 25 (Reuters) - A total of 17 million people watched the mostly virtual Republican National Convention's first night on Monday, according to Nielsen, fewer than the 19.7 million viewers who watched the first night of the Democratic National Convention.
The 17 million RNC number reflects the audience across 11 TV networks between 10 p.m EDT and 11 p.m. EDT and does not include online and streaming viewers. Fox News had the biggest audience, with 7.1 million viewers.
Ratings for the first night of the virtual Democratic National Convention reflected viewers across 10 U.S. TV networks on Aug. 17.
The Republican convention's first night featured speeches by former U.N. Ambassador and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley; Donald Trump Jr., the president's oldest son; and Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple who pointed guns at Black Lives Matter protesters who marched past their home.
Most of the speakers appeared in a nearly empty auditorium in Washington, bowing to the reality of the coronavirus pandemic despite President Donald Trump's push for a big event in front of thousands of admirers.
In making their case for Trump's re-election on Nov. 3, many speakers portrayed the United States as a country on the verge of chaos, arguing that the election of Democrat Joe Biden would lead to radical socialism and restrictions on Americans' freedoms.
Democrats had a bigger audience on the first night of the 2016 conventions as well - and both parties have experienced a drop in viewers since then. The first night of the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland attracted 23 million viewers. That year's Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia attracted 26 million viewers on its first night. (Reporting by Helen Coster; Editing by Leslie Adler, Jonathan Oatis and Bill Berkrot)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.