President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night drew a combined 33.5 million viewers across 16 networks, according to Nielsen — the smallest crowd for the event in 13 years.
Obama has now seen dwindling numbers for each of its last four State of the Union addresses. After drawing 52.37 million for his inaugural SOTU in 2009, he drew 48 million in 2010, 42.79 million in 2011 and 37.75 million a year ago.
Two-term presidents tend to draw smaller audiences for SOTU addresses in their final years. The most recent State of the Union to draw a smaller audience than Tuesday night was the eighth and final one issued by President Clinton (31.48 million).
And the smallest audience for a SOTU since 2000 was the final one for President George W. Bush in 2008 (37.52 million).
Nielsen sustained ratings for the commercial-free address, which aired from 9 to 10:15 p.m. ET, so they won’t be counted in nightly averages. But internal data released by the networks showed that NBC edged out CBS as most-watched during the address (6.47 million to 6.4 million), with ABC third (3.6 million); CBS won in households (4.3 to 4.1 for NBC).
It was a tight race for bragging rights among the cable newsies, with Fox News Channel (3.68 million) edging out CNN (3.64 million) from 9:15-10:15 p.m. ET, with MSNBC a competitive third (3.03 million). In the key adults 25-54 news demo, though, CNN dominated (1.44 million), besting MSNBC (1.03 million) by 40% and FNC (957,000) by 50%.
For all of primetime, FNC averaged 3.82 million to 3.36 million for CNN and 2.39 million for MSNBC. CNN led in adults 25-54 (1.28 million), followed by FNC (868,000) and MSNBC (790,000).
The State of the Union address aired live on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, PBS, Azteca, MundoFox, CNBC, CNN, Fox Business, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, Current, Centric and GALA and on tape-delay on Univision.
As it typically the case on the night of the SOTU, the Big Four aired little original programming surrounding the address. The lone exception was ABC’s 8 p.m. cooking competition “The Taste,” which averaged a 1.5/4 in 18-49 and 4.58 million viewers overall — airing before the State of the Union in most of the country and after it in the West.
Cable claimed the night’s top-rated English-language program among adults 18-49 with TBS’ 9:30 p.m. repeat of “The Big Bang Theory” (1.8/5 in 18-49, 4.30m). But among all series, the top draw was Univision’s 9 p.m. novela “Amores Verdaderos” (True Love), which averaged a 2.0/5 in 18-49 and 4.73 million viewers overall.