TV ratings aren’t as big as they used to be, even for O.J. Simpson.
Based on preliminary Nielsen data provided by various networks that carried the hearing, around 13.5 million TV viewers watched the Thursday hearing in which the former football star, actor and pitchman was granted parole after serving nine years in prison for a Las Vegas hotel room heist. The hearing was carried across four broadcast networks and several cable outlets, including ESPN.
The estimated figure pales next to previous multinetwork broadcasts of culturally iconic Simpson moments. An estimated 150 million viewers watched Simpson’s 1995 acquittal after standing trial for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. In June 1994, 95 million people tuned in to see police in a low-speed pursuit of Simpson in his white Ford Bronco through the streets of Los Angeles and on the 405 Freeway.
Those events rank among the most-watched TV moments in history, but occurred in an era when people had far fewer channel options and no Internet streaming.
While interest in Simpson remains high — an Oscar-winning documentary and an FX mini-series about him were among the most talked-about programs of 2016 -- his hearing and the unanimous vote by the four-member Nevada Board of Parole Commissioners to give him his freedom had little drama or suspense.
The hearing included a statement in support of parole from Bruce Fromong, one of the men threatened and robbed by Simpson and some of his associates in a Las Vegas hotel room in 2007. Simpson, convicted of robbery and kidnapping in 2008, could be free as soon as Oct. 1.
From 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Eastern time, CBS’ coverage led the broadcast networks with an audience of 3.1 million viewers, followed by ABC (2.3 million), NBC (1.9 million) and the Fox broadcast network (1.3 million). Fox News Channel led the cable networks with (1.7 million), topping CNN (1.1 million), HLN (559,000) and ESPN (471,000).
The ratings do not include the number of people who streamed coverage over the Internet.
Simpson’s audience even fell short of the 19.5 million TV viewers who watched the Senate testimony of former FBI Director James Comey on June 8, the most recent scheduled news event that warranted coverage across all major networks.
While there was little doubt that parole would be granted for Simpson, the hearing was a TV throwback to the mid-1990s when daytime viewers were transfixed by the courtroom proceedings when he was on trial for a double murder.
When a Los Angeles jury found Simpson not guilty in the murder trial Oct. 3, 1995, 91% of all television sets in use were tuned in to the event shown across ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN, according to Nielsen.