Although the number of viewers watching the presidential inauguration coverage of Barack Obama was impressive, the total fell short of those who watched the festivities for Ronald Reagan's first term in 1981.
Nielsen Media Research reports that 37.8 million television viewers tuned in Tuesday for overall coverage, which was the largest inaugural audience in 28 years. Reagan's first inauguration in 1981 drew a whopping 41.8 million.
Obama's viewership was, however, 27 percent higher than Bill Clinton's in 1993, and 30 percent higher than George W. Bush's in 2001. Bush’s swearing-in for his second term in 2005 was the lowest viewing audience (15.5 million) for a presidential inauguration.
In addition, the audience spiked at 46.8 million between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Eastern time, which encompassed the actual swearing-in ceremony and Obama's inauguration speech. During that time, NBC beat all competitors with 11.5 million viewers, followed by ABC (11 million) and CBS (7.2 million). CNN topped the cable networks, as well as CBS, with 8.5 million viewers, followed by Fox News Channel (5.5 million), and MSNBC (3.1 million).
However, the ratings do not include the huge online viewing audience, with CNN.com, FoxNews.com, and MSNBC.com all reporting record-breaking streaming video traffic. Google reports that searches were down during the event.
Obama's figures include telecasts on 17 broadcast and cable networks, while Reagan’s swearing-in ceremony nearly three decades ago could be seen on only ABC, CBS and NBC.
Among U.S. cities, Raleigh-Durham, N.C., had the largest TV audience (51 percent), while host city Washington, D.C., came in second (48 percent). Seattle-Tacoma had the lowest television rating at 18.8 percent, and the West Coast, in general, had the lowest numbers, possibly because the ceremony there was there televised at 9 a.m.
Overseas numbers show Germany with 11 million viewers, followed by France (7 million) and Great Britain (5.1 million).
Presidential Inauguration Ratings (from highest to lowest):
1981 – Ronald Reagan – 41.8 million
1977 – Jimmy Carter – 34.1 million
1973 – Richard Nixon – 33.0 million
1993 – Bill Clinton – 29.7 million
2001 – George W. Bush – 29.0 million
1985 – Ronald Reagan – 25.1 million
1989 – George Bush – 23.3 million
1997 – Bill Clinton – 21.6 million
2005 – George W. Bush – 15.5 million
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