Obama's Inauguration: Ratings Are Good but Below Reagan's

Jan 21, 09–The ratings for the inauguration of Barack Obama are impressive, but they are below those for Ronald Reagan's first term in 1981. Preliminary Nielsen estimates show that 29.2% of U.S. households were watching the presidential inauguration, the largest in decades but below the 37.4 household rating for Reagan.

Obama's figures include viewership on roughly 15 broadcast and cable networks, while the Reagan ceremony was viewed only on ABC, CBS and NBC.  Moreover, they do not include the huge online viewing this time around, with CNN.com, FoxNews.com and MSNBC.com all reporting record streaming video traffic.

The Reagan inauguaration in 1981 averaged 41.8 million viewers to stand as the most-watched on record. The previous low-water mark came in 2005 for the second inauguration of George W. Bush (15.5 million).

The Raleigh-Durham market had the largest percentage of households tuned in to the inauguration (51%), while host city Washington, D.C. came in second (48%). Seattle-Tacoma had the lowest with 18.8%, and the West in general delivered much smaller audiences than the rest of the country due to the earlier start time.

In primetime, Fox's “American Idol” scored the biggest numbers Tuesday, as auds seemed to tire of inaugural coverage. Sure, ABC did solid numbers for its coverage of the inaugural balls, but news specials on CBS and NBC were not competitive with entertainment programs in their time periods.

According to preliminary stats by Nielsen, “American Idol” dominated Tuesday's opening hour with an 8.9 rating/22 share in adults 18-49 and 22.4 million viewers overall. It was down sharply from last week's two-hour premiere, as expected, but also came in more than 15% below the show's second Tuesday episode of a year ago. Still, it provided a strong lead-in for rookie drama “Fringe” (4.7/11 in 18-49, 12.1 million viewers overall), which led or tied for the 9 o'clock lead in key young-adult demo categories.

As for the inauguration specials, ABC averaged a 3.7/9 in 18-49 and 12.6 million viewers overall from 8 to 10 p.m. for “Neighborhood Ball: An Inauguration Celebration,” peaking from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. with a 4.2/10 in the demo and about 14 million viewers overall. It stood as the night's second most-watched program, behind “Idol,” and gave the network its best performance on the night since the “Dancing With the Stars” finale in November.

On CBS Katie Couric's one-hour 9 o'clock special “Change and Challenge: The Inauguration of Barack Obama” (1.8/4 in 18-49, 6.9 million viewers overall) ranked fourth for its hour. The net fared better in the evening's other hours with repeats of “NCIS” at 8 (2.3/6 in 18-49, 11.7 million viewers overall) and “The Mentalist” at 10 (2.6/7 in 18-49, 10.5 million viewers overall).

And at NBC, the 10 o'clock special “Inauguration of Barack Obama” ran third (2.2/6 in 18-49, 6.2 million viewers overall) despite the lead-in from “Biggest Loser.”