Barack Obama’s inauguration draws 37.8M, second only to Reagan’s

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Barack Obama’s inauguration was the second most-watched in history, with an average of 37.8 million total viewers tuning in Tuesday.

Only Ronald Reagan’s first inaugural in 1981 had a bigger audience, with 41.8 million, according to Nielsen Media Research.


Nielsen’s Tuesday measurement counted the audience for 17 broadcast and cable networks. The figure represents live viewing as well as programming recorded on DVRs and played back later in the day. However, it doesn’t include viewers in offices, schools and other ‘out-of-home’ locations, nor does it measure the number who watched streaming video online. Nielsen provides statistics for inaugurations dating back to 1969; because of population growth and increases in TV ownership in recent years, it is unlikely audiences were significantly larger before that date.

Because they occur during the workday hours for most Americans, inaugurations tend to draw relatively modest audiences. The No. 3 inaugural was the 1977 swearing-in for Jimmy Carter (34.1 million). The least-watched was George W. Bush’s second inaugural in 2005 (15.5 million).

— Scott Collins