President Biden’s inaugural address on Wednesday attracted about a million and a half more viewers than tuned in for Donald J. Trump’s inaugural speech four years ago, according to preliminary data from Nielsen.
Nearly 40 million people watched Mr. Biden’s address on the major cable news stations and the three big broadcast networks. In 2017, 38.3 million viewers watched his predecessor’s first speech as president, the Nielsen data shows.
CNN was the ratings leader, drawing roughly 10 million viewers from roughly 11:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., when Mr. Biden took center stage. Only 2.7 million watched Mr. Biden’s address on Fox News, the lowest of the major networks and a sharp reversal from four years ago, when nearly 12 million viewers tuned in to Mr. Trump’s preferred cable news network.
Although significantly pared down because of the coronavirus pandemic, the ceremony had more star power than in 2017. Lady Gaga sang the national anthem, and Jennifer Lopez performed “This Land Is Your Land” shortly before Mr. Biden was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts. Jackie Evancho, a former contestant on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” sang the national anthem at Mr. Trump’s inauguration four years ago.
The numbers held steady for Mr. Biden’s festivities throughout Wednesday. From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., an average combined audience of 29.4 million viewers were watching the six networks on Wednesday, versus the 27 million who watched four years ago. In the five-hour block, CNN had the biggest audience (7.7 million viewers) among the major broadcast and cable networks, and Fox News had the smallest (2.1 million).
The numbers seemed to be a continuation of a ratings trend for so-called good news moments for Mr. Biden. On Nov. 7, when Mr. Biden held a prime-time victory speech several hours after major outlets had projected him the election winner, CNN scored huge numbers and Fox News’s audience stayed away.
The early Nielsen figures do not include streaming statistics, so surely the audience for both inaugurals was significantly higher. Nielsen is expected to release final figures for Wednesday’s total audience in the coming days, which will also include some streaming data, as well as out-of-home viewing in hotels or restaurants.
One thing that Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump have in common: Their inaugurations were no competition to former President Barack Obama’s first address. More than 51 million people watched Mr. Obama’s opening speech in 2009, according to Nielsen.
The numbers from Wednesday could sting Mr. Trump, who frequently mocked television personalities for any evidence of sliding Nielsen figures. And it was not the first time he had lost in a television ratings battle to Mr. Biden. In October, the two went head-to-head in town-hall-style events. The broadcast featuring Mr. Biden, on ABC, notched 15.1 million viewers, compared with the 13.5 million who watched Mr. Trump on NBC, MSNBC and CNBC.
More than 21 million people tuned in for an inaugural prime-time special that was shown on five of the broadcast networks and cable channels. The program, a production of the Presidential Inaugural Committee, was hosted by Tom Hanks and featured performances by Bruce Springsteen, John Legend and Katy Perry.