Reagan edges Obama in tight ratings race


Barack Obama's inauguration is one for the TV ratings history books.

Nielsen Media Research said 37.8 million viewers watched Tuesday's coverage of Obama's inauguration — the most in decades.

Obama's audience was 27% higher than Bill Clinton's audience in 1993 and 30% larger than George Bush's in 2001. Ronald Reagan's first inauguration in 1981 drew a larger tally, however, with 41.8 million.

Obama's total includes telecasts on 17 broadcast and cable networks and measures the number of viewers who watched from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. The ratings do not factor in online viewing, which was significant.

Among broadcasters, NBC News led competitors. From 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. EST, at the height of the ceremony and Obama's inaugural address, NBC led with 11.5 million, followed by ABC (11 million) and CBS (7.2 million). From 10 a.m.-5 p.m., NBC averaged 8.7 million, followed by ABC (8.4 million) and CBS (5.5 million).

CNN broke into the broadcast ranks, edging out CBS. The cable news network averaged 8.5 million viewers between noon and 12:30 p.m., followed by Fox News Channel (5.5 million) and MSNBC (3.1 million).

Overseas, some 11 million Germans watched coverage on one of the half-dozen channels carrying the inauguration live. In France, half the evening's TV audience — more than 7 million people — was glued to the screen. In Britain, the BBC said that 5.1 million viewers tuned in.

All the hoopla in the U.S. might have wounded the ratings for Fox's "American Idol," which dropped 24% from its debut — the largest second-week loss in the show's history.

What's certain is that Fox's "Fringe" (12.1 million, 4.7/11) benefited from its new lead-in, earning its second-best rating all season. Fox won the night, with ABC and NBC tying for second place. ABC followed its inaugural special with yet another inaugural special.

NBC aired "The Biggest Loser" (10.2 million, 3.9/9), which jumped 18% this week, partly because it faced only one hour of "Idol" competition instead of two. Yet "Loser" also managed to improve its 8 p.m. hour that went head-to-head against "Idol." (partialdiff)