Obama Grabs Highest TV Ratings Since Reagan

Web audience sends numbers skyrocketing
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 22, 2009 2:11 AM CST
Elementary school students watch a television broadcast of the inauguration of President Barack Obama at the Omaha Children's Museum in Omaha, Neb.   (AP Photo/Dave Weaver)
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(Newser) – Barack Obama's inauguration was the most-watched ever but it failed to set a TV ratings record, USA Today reports. Neilsen estimates 37.8 million television viewers tuned in for the ceremony, while 41.8 million watched Ronald Reagan's 1981 inauguration. But internet viewership broke records and sent figures through the roof. Some 26.9 million watched online streaming on CNN and 9.1 million on MSNBC's site, according to the networks.

Both presidents were "transformational political figures, so it's not surprising that interest was high for both," said one analyst, who noted that the drama of the Iranian hostages' release the same day boosted Reagan's numbers. Some 29 million people tuned in for the first inaugurals of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.