The inauguration of President Joe Biden won more viewers than President Donald Trump’s 2017 ceremony, per early Nielsen figures, and saw a reversal of fortunes for some of the nation’s best-watched cable-news outlets.
Approximately 39.87 million people watched the half-hour swearing-in ceremony over the nation’s six major TV-news outlets, according to Nielsen, compared with 38.35 million viewers for the 2017 event. The 2021 figure represents an approximately 4% increase over its 2017 predecessor.
Nielsen estimated that an average of 33.7 million people watched the event across 17 different networks, compared with an average of 30.6 million who watched former President Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017. Those figures, which include viewing via broadband and by people not in their own homes, indicate that 10.2% more people watched some part of the Biden proceedings than Trump’s.
CNN’s coverage captured an average of 9.9 million for the pivotal half hour, leading the pack. The AT&T-backed cable-news network said the numbers represented the biggest audience it has captured for an inauguration broadcast in its history.
ABC News’ coverage attracted the second-largest audience, an average of 7.66 million, followed by NBC News, with 6.89 million; MSNBC, with nearly 6.53 million; CBS News, with nearly 6.07 million; and Fox News Channel, with 2.74 million.
The numbers are preliminary, and may change after Nielsen tabulates a wider array of viewing sources.
The ratings numbers suggest more than just robust interest in a new Commander-in-Chief after a tumultuous period for the United States. CNN’s inauguration audience swelled, rising from a mere 3.375 million in 2017 — a jump of more than 196%. Meanwhile, Fox News Channel’s audience for the event fell from a whopping 11.76 million in 2017 — a tumble of nearly 77%. Just as CNN did in 2021, Fox News set a record for inauguration audience in 2017 over the course of a day.
Broader coverage showed similar trends. Approximately 29.45 million people tuned in to the six networks between the hours of 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. eastern yesterday, compared with 27.08 million in 2017 — an increase of nearly 9%.
In 2021, CNN’s coverage won the most viewers, an average of 7.74 million, followed by ABC News at 5.37 million and MSNBC at nearly 5.33 million.
Fox News’ coverage dominated the day in 2017, winning an average of 8.77 million, while MSNBC’s coverage attracted the least, an average of nearly 1.38 million. CNN’s coverage in 2017 lured an average of 2.61 million.
[Updated 1/25.21 to reflect additional information on total viewing across the day from Nielsen]