UPDATED, 1:39 PM: As the never-ending political whiplash continues in Washington, D.C. and the hangover kicks in from last night’s State of the Union, the final numbers are here for Donald Trump’s speech to Congress. Across a dozen outlets and not counting streaming, 45.6 million tuned in for the President’s first official SOTU in primetime Tuesday from 9-10 PM ET.
As anticipated as the speech was in punditry circles, Trump’s 80-minute stint on the teleprompter was expectedly down in total viewers, though not by much, from remarks he gave to members of the House of Representatives, the Senate, the Supreme Court, the Joint Chiefs and more on February 28, 2017. Following the usual Presidential trajectory of lessening viewer interest over time, last night’s speech declined 5% from the 48 million that watched last year’s non-SOTU address overall ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, Univision, PBS, Fox News Channel, CNN, MSNBC, FBN and NBC Universo.
In the interest of comparison, Tuesday’s speech was also shown on ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, Univision, PBS, Fox News Channel, CNN, MSNBC, FBN, NBC Universo and Estrella. The Rupert Murdoch-run Fox News was the single most-watched outlet with an audience of 11.5 million.
Comparison may actually be where the rub gets a bit raw for Trump, especially in terms of his immediate predecessors. Barack Obama had just more than 48 million total viewers for his first SOTU in 2010 on 11 outlets, and nearly 52 million watched George W. Bush’s post-9/11 first SOTU in 2002 on eight outlets. Adding to the con column, Trump did not beat the 45.8 million who tuned in for Bill Clinton’s first SOTU on ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN in 1994.
Which means Trump’s initial SOTU, the third longest in history, is now also the least watched address in nearly a quarter of a century.
Which is not how White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders will characterize things in the coming days, you can be sure. However, POTUS did achieve his supposedly stated goal of topping the Grammys. On CBS on January 28, the three-hour Trump-bashing shindig of music’s biggest night hit a nearly 10-year low with 19.81 million viewers.
PREVIOUSLY, 6:29 AM: With the First Lady-invited guests in the gallery and enthusiastic Republicans and compliant Democrats in the chamber, Donald Trump left almost no hot button issue unexplored last night in his first State of the Union address to Congress.
Sticking to the teleprompter for most of his 80-minute speech, the 45th President of the United States hit old favorites like immigration reform, standing for the national anthem and the benefits of last year’s tax cuts bill. At the same time, with a record number of Democrats boycotting the SOTU, Trump also dipped his domestic toe into criminal justice reform, paid family leave and a massive infrastructure proposal in a clear effort to reach across the aisle in the lead up to the midterm elections.
Which meant, for the most part, the inaugural SOTU of the ex-Celebrity Apprentice host was an address that any POTUS could have delivered over the past 25-years.
Following that tradition, Tuesday’s speech saw the NBC topping the Big 4 in the meter market ratings as they did last year when he first addressed Congress. With all of the broadcasters preempting regular programming from 9 – 11 PM ET, the former home of the Apprentice franchise snared a 4.4/7 for Trump’s speech. That’s ahead of the 4.3/7 that CBS got, ABC’s 3.5/5 and Fox’s 2.6/4 for the speech proper.
While down 21% from what he garnered in his address to Congress on February 28, 2017 on top rated NBC, President Trump is overall pretty steady with that non-SOTU address with just a 7% dip.
Now, while the urge is strong, it’s a bit hard to make an apples-to-apples comparison from Trump’s address last night to Barack Obama’s first State of the Union. Clearly the TV landscape and viewing habits of January 27, 2010 were very different from the territory we find ourselves in today. However, in metered market numbers on the Big 4, the 44th POTUS’ one-hour and nine-minute first SOTU pulled in a 4.8/7 on CBS and a 5.8/9 on NBC, ABC and Fox, who had a then still strong American Idol as a fitting lead-in.
Obama’s first State of the Union went on to have a total viewership of just over 48 million, a decline of just over 4 million from the audience his January 24, 2009 speech before Congress drew – an address that technically wasn’t a SOTU.
With cable news and many others plus online streaming blanketing the event, Trump also made such an unofficial speech last year and snagged a 5.6/9 MM rating on NBC, a 4.5/7 on CBS, a 3.8/6 on ABC and a 2.1/3 on Fox. In the final numbers, 47.7 million watched that speech in front of the members of the House of Representatives, the Senate, the Supreme Court, the Joint Chiefs and more. That was down 9% from Obama’s first Congressional address in 2009 and basically even with the 44th POTUS’s first SOTU in 2010.
Supposedly the President joked with TV anchors on Tuesday at a White House lunch that he expected the SOTU to get better ratings than the Grammys, which hit an all-time low on CBS this year among the core demographic of adults 18-49. We’ll get a better sense of that specifically in later numbers but among the meter markets, it looks like POTUS got the win he wanted. The total for last night’s SOTU is 14.8 among all Big 4 meter market results while the three-hour 60th annual Grammy Awards got a 12.7 on CBS.
The Grammys ended up with 19.81 million viewers, a number that Trump is almost certain to easily exceed. So at least that part of our union is strong. With that, we’ll update with more SOTU numbers as we get them.
UPDATE, 8:52 AM: It seems Donald Trump had a good night on Tuesday with his first State of the Union speech but The Flash (0.9/3) and Black Lightning (0.8.3) had a really good night.
As the Big 4 cut to SOTU coverage from 9 – 11 PM on Tuesday, the CW stuck to its superhero series for the most part. Looks like it was strong counterprogramming as the Scarlett Speedster and the Cress Williams led newbie were rewarded with a 29% and 33% respectively jump from last week among adults 18-49s. Now, as Flash hit its highest rated episode since the latest Arrowverse crossover of late November, Boston and Indianapolis affiliates did show the SOTU so we may see adjustments for the CW shows later today.
Otherwise the big news on the Big 4 was the former Celebrity Apprentice’s inaugural SOTU with NBC taking the top spot with a 1.5/5 for its two-hour coverage of the 80-minute speech and analysis. As is common with almost any Presidency, that was down from Trump’s non-SOTU speech before Congress back on February 28 last year. Comparing the two sets of remarks, last night’s SOTU declined 25% in the 18-49 demo.
According to Nielsen, NBC was number #1 for the SOTU as it was for last year’s speech but CBS moved up to number #2 with a 1.1/4 from its 2017’s 1.0/3 in fast affiliates. Viewershipwise, NBC had an audience of 6.13 million, CBS had 6.16 million and ABC and Fox had 4.37 million and 3.14 million each. With the later due drawing ratings of 0.9/3 and 0.8/3, the total Big 4 viewership for the 2018 SOTU and the pundit follow up was 19.8 million. That’s down 13% in total sets of eyeballs from what Trump’s 2017 speech delivered to the ratings conscious POTUS.
As is also common in almost all Presidencies, there will likely be changes and tweaks in those numbers later today.
As for the rest of what was on TV last night, Fox ran a Lethal Weapon repeat but NBC’s Ellen’s Game of Games (1.8/7) and a double shot of ABC’s Fresh Off The Boat (1.0/4) were the same as their last originals. Showing where America’s real interest is heading as we move towards a certain Big Game on Sunday, the 2018 edition of CBS’s Super Bowl Greatest Commercials (1.1/4) was up 22% over the 2017 version in the 18-49 demo.