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Speech impediment

State of Union address hits 5-year rating low

President Bush’s first State of the Union address of his second term attracted 40% of the available primetime audience Wednesday night, making it the least-watched such speech in five years.

According to Nielsen estimates, the seven English-language broadcast and cable nets airing the address live (9-10:03 p.m. ET) combined for 38.32 million viewers, while Spanish-language outlets Telemundo and TeleFutura attracted an additional 1.05 million.

The combined audience of 39.37 million viewers is down nearly 10% from last year’s 43.41 million and off sharply from Bush’s prior two State of the Union addresses — 62.06 million in 2003 and 51.78 million in 2002. State of the Union crowd is the smallest since President Clinton’s final address in 2000 (31.48 million).

As for the nine minutes of analysis on each of the nets (10:03-10:12 p.m.) prior to the Democratic response, NBC’s Brian Williams-led coverage led the way with 8.4 million viewers, according to Nielsen. ABC and Peter Jennings placed second (7.23 million), followed by Fox’s broadcast stations (6.37 million, boosted by a huge “American Idol” lead-in), Fox News Channel (6.35m) and the Dan Rather-led CBS coverage (5.7 million).

For its two hours of coverage, Fox News reported an audience of roughly 5 million viewers, crushing CNN (just over 1 million) and MSNBC (716,000). MSNBC edged CNN in adults 25-54 (330,000 to 312,000 viewers), while Fox beat both cablers with 1.6 million.

On the entertainment side Wednesday, “American Idol” dominated from 8 to 9 p.m. (10.9 rating/29 share in adults 18-49, 26.17 million viewers overall). Getting a boost from a lack of entertainment choices at 9 was the WB’s rookie drama “Jack & Bobby” (1.4/3 in 18-49, 3.12m), which added 1.3 million viewers week to week.

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