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State of the Union: A Smaller Audience

By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, February 4, 2005; Page C07

About 38 million people watched President Bush's State of the Union address Wednesday across four broadcast and three cable networks -- his worst SOTU performance ever.

In fact, it's the second smallest SOTU audience in the past 12 years or more.


About 1 million viewers on Telemundo and TeleFutura watched President Bush's speech. (Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)

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Except for his last, all of President Bill Clinton's SOTU addresses copped bigger numbers than Bush's on Wednesday. Clinton's final SOTU in 2000 was delivered after he'd been impeached, and even that one clocked about 32 million. Ouch.

As in the past, Bush's SOTU fumbled a shocking number of "American Idol" viewers on Fox. At 8 p.m., "Idol" averaged more than 26 million viewers, of which Bush managed to hang on to a mere 7.6 million -- a lousy 29 percent retention rate.

But the president had better luck with "Lost." Bush kept almost all of the "Lost" audience over on ABC -- 8.6 million of the drama series's 10 million viewers, which surely says something about Bush. Or "Lost."

Likewise, Bush held on to nearly all of his "60 Minutes" lead-in audience of 6.8 million over on CBS. I know, ironic, isn't it?

Bush did NBC a favor by bringing in twice as many viewers from 9 to 10 p.m. -- about 8 million of them -- as the network's breasts-and-bottoms show "Sports Illustrated: Model Search" did at 8 p.m. We'll get back to you on what that all means; right now we'd rather not contemplate it.

Although all of the broadcast networks lost SOTU viewers year to year, over in Cable World things looked rosier -- unless you're CNN, of course.

Fox News Channel gained viewers year to year -- but you knew that, didn't you? But FNC didn't gain as many as you might have thought, averaging about 6 million viewers compared with last year's 5.2 million.

On a smaller scale, MSNBC was up 10 percent, from 689,000 viewers in '04 to 759,000 on Wednesday.

CNN, on the other hand, lost about half its viewers year to year, dropping to 1.1 million off last year's 2.3 million.

This year Nielsen also provided the media with an SOTU number for two Spanish-language networks, Telemundo and TeleFutura. About 1 million viewers watched the president's address on those two networks.


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