Almost 37.8 million viewers watched coverage of Barack Obama’s inauguration (10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. ET on Tuesday) on about 15 broadcast and cable networks, according to Nielsen. That makes the inauguration of the country’s first African American president the second most-watched inaugural after Ronald Reagan’s coverage 1981 inauguration which was watched by 41.8 million viewers.
NBC was the most-watched broadcast network on Tuesday, averaging 11.4 million viewers from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. followed closely by ABC which averaged 11 million viewers. CNN edged out CBS during the same time period 7.3 million to 7.19 million viewers.
From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., NBC averaged 8.6 million viewers followed by ABC (8.3 million), CNN (5.7 million) and CBS (5.5 million).
CNN was the most-watched cable news network for Tuesday’s marathon inauguration coverage. Between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. CNN averaged 6.9 million viewers (2.8 million in news’ target sales demographic of 25-54 year olds).
Fox News was second with 4.4 million viewers (1.3 million in the demo). MSNBC, which has banked on its political coverage, averaged 2.5 million viewers (923,620 in the demo).
From 12-12:30 p.m. when President Obama took the oath of office and delivered his inaugural address, CNN viewership surged to 8.4 million (3.4 million in the demo). Fox News was watched by 5.4 million viewers (1.7 million n the demo) and MSNBC had 3 million viewers (1.1 million in the demo).
As the Obama inauguration festivities wound into the evening, CNN averaged 3.7 million viewers (1.5 million in the demo) from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. Fox News followed with 2.6 million viewers (755,000 in the demo) and MSNBC was third with 1.9 million viewers (712,000 in the demo).
Viewer averages for Obama’s inauguration far outpaced the 2001 inauguration, the last inauguration of a new president.
On Jan. 20, 2001, CNN averaged 1.2 million viewers (6 a.m. to 3 a.m.) compared to 3.9 million for the same time period on Tuesday, while Fox News was watched by an average of 1 million viewers in ’01 compared to 2.5 million on Tuesday. MSNBC averaged 697,000 on inauguration day 2001 compared to 1.6 million on Tuesday.
Additionally, HBO’s inauguration kick-off ball last Sunday night was watched by just over 4 million viewers over three plays in HBO subscriber homes, a big number for the pay cable network. Another 700,000 viewed the event on HBO.com.