December 3, 2021


Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

TV audience for President Biden inauguration larger than Trump

President Joe Biden’s inauguration was watched by more than 30 million TV viewers Wednesday and will likely top the average for Donald Trump’s ceremony in 2017, according to early Nielsen data.

The combined total for cable news channels CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, and broadcast networks ABC, CBS and NBC is 29.6 million — larger than the figure for Trump’s ceremony, which averaged 28 million viewers. The final total for Trump‘s inauguration when other outlets were added in came to 30.6 million viewers.

Biden’s event was also carried by WGN America, Telemundo, Univision, CNBC, PBS, Fox Business Network, BET, BETHer, Newsy and CNN en Español. Nielsen will put out an official total that includes those networks on Monday and that will push it past Trump’s figure.

It’s likely that Biden’s numbers got a boost due to more people being at home and available to watch as the COVID-19 pandemic is still keeping many workplaces and schools closed.

The figure is an average for five hours of coverage spanning 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern. More than 40 million viewers watched Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris take the oath of office from 11:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Eastern.

CNN — on a torrid ratings streak since election day — had the most viewers with an average of 7.7 million during the five hours. ABC was second with 5.37 million viewers, followed by MSNBC, (5.32 million); NBC (4.7 million); CBS (4.1 million); and Fox News (2.2 million).

For CNN, it was the most-watched inauguration ceremony in the network’s 40-year history. Fox News had the most viewers for Trump’s inauguration coverage with an audience of 8.4 million in 2017.

CNN averaged 5.4 million viewers over the entire day on Wednesday, which ranks sixth overall in its history. Six out of CNN’s 10 largest daily audiences have occurred since the 2020 presidential election, making it the most-watched cable network overall in that time span.

The total audience for Biden’s inauguration will fall below the 37.8 million viewers who watched Barack Obama’s first swearing-in ceremony in 2009, which was the highest since 41.8 million viewers watched Ronald Reagan’s inauguration in 1981.

Dana Bash, Jake Tapper and Abby Philip in Washington during CNN’s coverage of President Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2021.

Biden’s audience total is higher than the first-term inaugurations for Trump, Bill Clinton in 1993 (29.7 million), George W. Bush in 2001 (29 million viewers) and George H.W. Bush in 1989 (23.3 million).

There is no official tally of people who watched on various streaming platforms that carried the event. CNN said the video stream of its coverage peaked at 12 p.m. Eastern with 2.2 million users watching Biden’s inaugural address, slightly lower than the all-time high of 2.29 million who watched Trump’s inaugural address in 2017.

CNN said 15 million unique digital users around the world tuned into some portion of its inauguration coverage.