The final viewer tally is in, and a total of 37.8 million watched the inauguration of Barack Obama according to Nielsen, the most since Ronald Reagan's first inaugural in 1981, which drew 41.8 million.
That 37.8 million figure includes same-day time-shifted viewing to 17 broadcast and cable networks between 10 a.m. and five p.m. But what it doesn't include, and wasn't around to be measured in Reagan's day, was the number of people who monitored the proceedings on the Web.
In addition, millions more watched coverage of various inaugural balls in primetime on broadcast and cable outlets including ABC and CNN and MSNBC and C-SPAN, as well as wrap-up specials on the Big Three networks Tuesday night.
The combined overall household rating for the inauguration in Nielsen’s top 56 metered markets was 29.2%.
That puts Obama way ahead of the second inauguration of George W. Bush four years ago. That inaugural was among the least watched at 11.8% in the top markets with a mere 15.5 million tuning in.
Of course Nielsen’s audience measurement is based on home viewing only and does not account for the potentially substantial number of viewers that watched the inauguration at offices, schools and public spaces.