President Barack Obama’s Sunday night primetime speech might have, according to GOP White House candidates, been too little too late – and why give the address from the intimacy of the Oval Office if you’re going to shove a podium in front of the POTUS desk? – but it attracted a whopping 46 million viewers.
To give you a sense of scale, in January, not quite 32 million Americans watched Obama’s State of the Union address on television. Yes, that was the lowest turnout since President Bill Clinton’s final State of the Union address in 2000. But Sunday’s crowd also was bigger than for Obama’s SOTU address in 2014, which clocked more than 33M. Sunday’s audience drew much closer than those speeches to Obama’s biggest audience to date, which remains his address to the joint houses of Congress in 2009, when he drew more than 52 million viewers.
Nielsen did not break out each network in its ratings information. But cable news networks did send stats, and Fox News Channel, as usual, led this ratings derby, clocking 3.316 million viewers. That’s about 262% better than the network has averaged this year in the Sunday time slot. And, the next day, FNC suspended two of its contributors for their potty-mouthed analysis of Obama’s address.
CNN jumped the most, percentage-wise – 289% – to average 1.722M viewers. And, so far as we know, no one got suspended. MSNBC climbed 182% but did not crack a million viewers (861K).
The news-demo pecking order lined up similarly in audience size. FNC clocked 695K viewers between the age of 25 and 54 years, which is 340% than its season average in the slot. CNN’s 536K is a 248% improvement, following FNC’s. MSNBC’s 160K news-demo viewers for Obama’s address represents a 34% improvement over its calendar-year-to-date average in the Sunday slot.
President Obama interrupted primetime TV for 16 minutes Sunday to call last Wednesday’s shooting in San Bernardino an act of terrorism perpetrated by two people who had “gone down the dark path of radicalization,” and to call on Congress to block people on the country’s terrorism watch list from buying firearms.
The White House on Friday contacted networks requesting the Sunday primetime slot in the wake of San Bernardino’s slaying of 14 people and wounding of 21 others by a pair of heavily armed shooters. Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik were gunned down by police after they killed 14 people and injured 21 others during a holiday party attended by Farook’s co-workers. The FBI is investigating the massacre as a terrorist attack since late last week after learning Malik had pledged allegiance to ISIS on Facebook shortly before the attack began. The Obama White House presumably wanted the air time on Sunday because HUT levels are particularly high that night, in order to reach as many Americans as possible.
Viewers were more likely to watch Sunday’s address on the broadcast networks, where they already were watching Sunday football, etc. The number of people who watched the speech on the cable networks edges out, say, the 5.2M who watched Obama’s last visit to David Letterman on CBS’ The Late Show in September 2012.
It’s only the third time Obama has spoken to the public from the Oval Office, which was intended to raise the stakes, insiders said in the walk-up. It was an effort to reset the conversation in the wake of inflammatory rhetoric after Wednesday’s attack, they said. The next day, GOP front-runner Donald Trump called for a ban on all Muslims entering the U.S. while the government tries “to figure out what is going on.” So that went well.