Thursday’s testimonies from Supreme Court hopeful Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford were inescapable. With coverage on the main three cable news networks and three broadcasters stretching for nearly nine hours, viewership averaged just north of 20 million viewers for the whole block.
A culmination of two weeks’ worth of media fixation on Donald Trump’s SCOTUS pick and the professor who who has accused him of sexually assaulting her when the two were in high school, the heated hearing included displays of tears and rage and went on for almost the entire day. Talking heads on the cable news outlets kept the conversation going well into the night.
Across the three cable networks with reported ratings from Nielsen Media, coverage of the testimonies was at its strongest while Kavanaugh took the stand. Just more than 13 million viewers were watching at the time on cable news alone, between 3:15 and 6:45 p.m. (Hour-by-hour tallies for broadcast networks ABC, CBS and NBC were not immediately available.)
Looking at the performance network by network, Fox News Channel led coverage with 5.7 million viewers between 10 a.m. and 6:45 p.m. ET. It also boasted the highest score among adults 25-54, with a peak audience of 1.4 million during Kavanaugh’s time on the floor. On broadcast, ABC News had the edge with 3.3 million viewers, barely edging CBS; 3.1 million and NBC’s 2.9 million.
Primetime was a boon to all three cable nets. The major cable news networks were up significantly, putting a damper on the Big Four’s premiere week Thursday, but Fox News came out on top with 5.5 million viewers, over MSNBC’s 3.2 million and CNN’s 1.9 million.
There’s no contemporary comparison to what took place before Senate judiciary committee yesterday. You’d have to look back almost 30 years to when Anita Hill offered her own account of sexual harassment at the hands of now-judge Clarence Thomas. Total viewership for her testimony was not made available, but Nielsen reported at the time that the event was viewed in more than 20 million homes. That means the total audience for Hill was likely much higher.
TV news’ attention remained fixed on Kavanaugh and fallout from the accusations against him, though none of the networks are likely to see a repeat of Thursday’s numbers anytime soon.