President Joe Biden's Inauguration Draws 40M Viewers

US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris
JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

Nearly 40 million people watched Joe Biden become the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday, the most for an inauguration since Barack Obama in 2009.

From 11:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. ET Wednesday — the time covering Biden's swearing-in and his inaugural address — broadcast networks ABC, CBS and NBC and cable news channels CNN, Fox News and MSNBC drew 39.87 million viewers, according to fast national ratings. That's about 1.52 million more people than watched Donald Trump's inauguration in 2017.

Obama's first inaugural peaked at more than 51 million viewers when he was sworn in on Jan. 20, 2009; his second inaugural drew a considerably smaller audience, as is typical for two-term presidents.

For the wider coverage window of 11 a.m.-4 p.m. ET, Wednesday's coverage averaged 29.45 million viewers, also up from 2017 (27.08 million) and trailing 2009 (34.51 million) across the six biggest outlets. In 2013, 20.55 million people watched the entire inaugural festivities from 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

CNN led all networks for both the five-hour window (7.74 million viewers) and the half hour featuring Biden's swearing-in (9.99 million). The network had its most watched inauguration in its 40-year history, more than doubling its audience from four years ago.

MSNBC was also way up, averaging 5.33 million viewers from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. and 6.89 million for Biden's oath of office and speech. Fox News, conversely, fell sharply, from 8.77 million viewers for the five-hour window in 2017 to 2.17 million on Wednesday. It went from 11.77 million viewers for the oath of office four years ago to 2.74 million this year.

The broadcast networks were mixed: ABC (5.37 million viewers from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.) and CBS (4.13 million) each improved a little, while NBC (4.71 million) lost about a million viewers. Spanish-language network Univision averaged 1.3 million viewers for the afternoon. ABC led the broadcast networks for the first time since 1993.

CNN continued to hold the lead in primetime, where it averaged 6.68 million viewers for the multi-network Celebrating America special. MSNBC drew 4.41 million viewers for the 90-minute show, followed by NBC (3.86 million), ABC (3.66 million) and CBS (3.04 million). Fox News aired is regular primetime lineup and averaged 3.21 million viewers over the 90 minutes. Univision (1.2 million) and Telemundo (876,000) ran their own news specials from 8-10 p.m.

This story will be updated when final ratings and numbers from additional outlets are available on Friday.