State of the Union Address draws nearly 47 million viewers

By February 7, 2019Advertising
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers a State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. Credit: Aaron P. Bernstein/Bloomberg

A one-week delay didn’t seem to have a material impact on America’s interest in the State of the Union Address, as Tuesday night’s multi-network broadcast delivered a slightly larger audience than the year-ago event.

According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, President Donald Trump’s 82-minute Congressional address averaged 46.8 million viewers across a dozen linear TV networks, edging the 2018 speech (45.6 million) by 3 percent. As it stands now, the overall deliveries are the year’s third-highest behind only Super Bowl LIII (98.2 million viewers) and the Jan. 20 AFC Championship Game (53.9 million). Both games aired on CBS.

As is usually the case with this annual demonstration of political stagecraft, older viewers outnumbered the younger set by a very wide margin. Per the final Nielsen numbers, 29.2 million viewers, or 62 percent of the overall audience, had aged out of the 25-to-54 demographic, while a mere 3.7 million adults aged 18-to-34 tuned in. In other words, millennials accounted for just 8 percent of the total viewership.

Fox News Channel served up the night’s largest deliveries, averaging 11.3 million viewers, of whom some 2.8 million were members of the core news demo. NBC took second on the night with 7.14 million viewers and 2.63 million adults 25-to-54, while CBS placed third with 6.68 million viewers and 1.93 demographically targeted citizens.

ABC finished last among the broadcast nets (5.91 million viewers/1.78 million in the 18-to-34 demo), although those deliveries were enough to top cable nets CNN (3.47 million/1.0 million) and MSNBC (3.79 million/796,000).

Punctuated by frequent applause from the Republican side of the aisle, Trump’s address is the longest since President Bill Clinton’s characteristically long-winded effort in 2002. That speech remains the lengthiest on record, clocking in at 89 minutes.

Tuesday’s address provided the president with his second-largest TV audience since he assumed office. Trump’s first speech before Congress on Feb. 28, 2017 averaged 47.7 million viewers—this is officially categorized as an Address to the Joint Sessions of Congress, as are all such presentations by incoming presidents—making it the seventh most-watched address in TV history. This year’s speech now ranks as the eighth biggest State of the Union oration.

Clinton in 1993 carved out bragging rights for the most-watched Congressional address, as his presentation of his post-recession economic plan scared up 66.9 million viewers. President George W. Bush delivered the second largest audience (62.1 million viewers) with his 2003 address, which looked to justify the administration’s plan to invade Iraq, while Clinton scored again with his relatively zippy 77-minute 1998 speech (53.1 million), coming in third place.

More recently, President Barack Obama laid claim to the fourth most-watched congressional klatch, drawing 52.3 million viewers with his 2009 Joint Sessions address.

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