How Inauguration Day Ratings Broke Down for TV, Online

NBC News and MSNBC Lead With 10 Million Unique Users on the Web

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NEW YORK ( -- Inauguration Day was a big win for new media, with nearly 40 million unique visitors watching streaming coverage online throughout the day on current events and global news web sites, according to Nielsen Online. That's more than the combined 37.8 million Americans who watched the inauguration on TV throughout the day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., making it the second-most-watched inauguration after Ronald Reagan's in 1981, according to Nielsen Media Research.

NBC coverage led broadcast networks, averaging 8.7 million total viewers from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and a 2.3 rating among adults 18 to 49.
NBC coverage led broadcast networks, averaging 8.7 million total viewers from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and a 2.3 rating among adults 18 to 49. Credit: NBC
Leading the charge on the broadcast front was NBC, which averaged 8.7 million total viewers from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and a 2.3 rating among adults 18 to 49, according to Nielsen. ABC followed closely with 8.4 million total viewers, tying NBC with a 2.3 among adults 18 to 49, while CBS garnered 5.5 million total viewers and a 1.4 among adults 18 to 49.

How they fared online
It's tough to tell how much overlap occurred between online and TV viewership, especially since Nielsen's figures don't include non-news sites like, and, which were among the entertainment companies who also streamed the inauguration. That said, by Nielsen's reckoning NBC News was the biggest broadcast winner online through its partnership with sibling cable news network MSNBC, attracting 10 million unique users to its sites on Inauguration Day, 43% more than the week before, according to Nielsen Online. The ABC News digital network garnered 2.3 million unique visitors, up 99% from the week before, followed by CBS with 1.6 million unique visitors, up 96% from the week before.

CNN took top honors for cable, drawing an average of 5.8 million total viewers from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 2.3 million of whom were adults 25 to 54. It was followed by Fox News Channel, with 3.6 million total viewers, including 1.1 million adults 25 to 54, and MSNBC, with 2.2 million total viewers and 754,000 in the 25-to-54 demo.

CNN's cable victory was mirrored online, with attracting more than 11 million unique visitors, 41% more than the week before. CNN bested MSNBC's aforementioned 10 million combined unique visitors with NBC News, as well as's 4 million users.'s audience did not include figures from, which streamed broadcast network Fox's coverage of the inauguration but did not break out specific traffic.

Changing the viewing experience
Although NBC News and MSNBC were the winners in aggregate audience, CNN was pegged as the early winner in changing the viewing experience. Rich Greenfield, a media analyst at Pali Research, called's live-streaming integration with Facebook a "watershed event" in a client note.

"Live TV shifted from a passive to a social/interactive experience," he said, "and underscored the power of the internet to deliver video programming to a massive number of users simultaneously."

Nielsen Online's Top 10 Current Events & Global News Sites Ranked by Unique Audience on Inauguration Day 2009 (U.S. Home and Work)
1 CNN Digital Network 11,047,000
2 MSNBC Digital Network 10,006,000
3 Yahoo News 9,127,000
4 Fox News Digital Network 4,019,000
5 AOL News 3,949,000
6 2,442,000
7 Tribune Newspapers 2,344,000
8 ABC News Digital Network 1,843,000
9 1,711,000
10 CBS News Digital Network 1,640,000

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