At 38 million, State of the Union Address has smallest viewership yet for Obama

January 25, 2012

About 38 million people across the TV landscape Tuesday watched President Obama’s State of the Union Address, in which he detailed a few of the many proposals that Congress will scuttle this year.

Actually, he attracted more people than that. Nielsen, with its usual flair, did not include such outlets as PBS or C-SPAN in its tally of 14 networks.

About 27 million of those speech viewers watched on the commercial broadcast networks. NBC attracted the most speech viewers of any network — 8.2 million.

An additional 7.3 million watched Obama’s speech on CBS, which bested ABC’s 6.6 million. That probably had something to do with CBS’s having aired “NCIS” (12.6 million) as Obama’s lead-in. ABC, on the other hand, aired two reruns of its retro Tim Allen sitcom, “Last Man Standing,” before Obama’s speech. (I’m guessing ABC News will not be sending ABC Entertainment a note of thanks on that.)

“NCIS,” in fact, was the president’s best lead-in on any network — though Steven Tyler pitched in strong with his “American Idol” rerun (9.6 million) on Fox. Obama averaged 4.9 million on that Fox broadcast network — not to be confused with Fox News Channel, which snared 3.8 million viewers for Obama’s speech. Fox’s audience was the largest of any cable network.

MSNBC contributed 2.8 million viewers to Obama’s tally; CNN tossed in an additional 2.6 million. Notice how MSNBC copped more viewers than CNN? It’s the first time MSNBC has outstripped CNN for a SOTU telecast. (There surely was much rejoicing at MSNBC on Wednesday afternoon.)

Early stats indicated that Obama attracted about 9 million more people than did Jim Carrey’s Actual Daughter as she sang for a ticket to Hollywood on “American Idol’s” San Diego auditions episode. That’s right, Carrey’s daughter needs Fox to pay her way to Hollywood.

Yes, the “American Idol” episode’s tally also is a cumed number. That total includes the 9.5 million who caught the “Idol” episode Tuesday, as well as the nearly 20 million who watched the episode last Sunday after the NFC championship game.

We admit that this calculation assumes that no one watched the “Idol” episode twice — because who in their right mind would watch an “American Idol” audition episode twice?

Anyway, like “Idol” this season, Obama drew his smallest State of the Union address audience yet.

Last February, Obama’s address attracted 43 million viewers. The year before that, he drew 48 million. And an impressive 52 million caught his first such speech — which, technically, was not a State of the Union Address, but rather an address to a joint session of Congress. That’s because a president who has just taken office in January doesn’t do a SOTU in February. Learned that in civics class.

The president’s numbers are, however, on par with the 38 million that President George W. Bush commanded in his final SOTU address.

And for chatting-at-cocktail-party purposes, here’s a list of some of SOTU’s Recent Biggest Nights:

●In 2003, 62 million watched as Bush outlined his justification for the war in Iraq in his SOTU Address — otherwise known as the Lead-Up to the Iraq War Address, or the Yellowcake Uranium Address.

●In 1998, 53 million watched, the day after President Bill Clinton delivered his equally riveting I Did Not Have Sexual Relations With That Woman speech.

●In 1993, 67 million watched the recently sworn-in Clinton deliver his address to the joint session of Congress.

On Tuesday, Obama delivered what he called a “blueprint for an America built to last” during his one-hour, 15 minute-ish speech before various politicos and invited Human Audio Visual Aids. Billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s secretary, Debbie Bosanek, for instance, sat with first lady Michelle Obama so cameras could zero in on the secretary as the president described, in the most detail to date, his “Buffett rule.” Under this plan, wealthier Americans would have a higher tax rate than their secretaries. (Buffett has famously said he paid a lower effective tax rate than his secretary.) The rule forms a key component of Obama’s plan to boost short-term spending to help create jobs for the middle class.

“We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by,” Obama told his Academy Awards broadcast-size audience. “Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share and everyone plays by the same set of rules. What’s at stake are not Democratic values or Republican values, but American values,” he continued. “We have to reclaim them.”

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