President Biden's inauguration Wednesday may have had a limited in-person audience thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, but when it came to those watching at home, its audience was larger than that for former President Trump's inauguration in 2017. Variety reports the early numbers from Nielsen show about 39.87 million people tuned in to the swearing-in ceremony via one of the six major TV news outlets in the US, a 4% increase over the 38.35 million who tuned in four years prior. CNN came in first with 9.9 million, the largest inauguration audience it has ever captured, the network said. ABC News was in second place, followed by NBC News, MSNBC, and CBS News.
Fox News, which took the top spot in 2017, was in last place this year. Just 2.7 million viewers tuned in there, Deadline reports, compared to 11.8 million for Trump's inauguration—a Fox inauguration record. And that's after Fox boasted the highest ratings for nearly every "major presidential event" in 2020, Axios reports. As for the primetime celebratory concert hosted by Tom Hanks, about 24.6 million tuned in; Fox didn't even air that portion of the day. The numbers don't include households that may have streamed the event, and Variety reports they are preliminary and could change after Nielsen "tabulates a wider array of viewing sources." The highest-rated inauguration of the past half-century was Ronald Reagan's in 1981; an average of 41.8 million tuned in. (Read more Biden inauguration stories.)