That number matched a figure released by Nielsen based on viewership on 12 broadcast networks and cable channels.
But the audience was smaller than the 48 million who watched Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress last year and smaller than several speeches delivered by recent predecessors. Barack Obama's joint session speech in 2009 drew 52 million viewers; George W. Bush's State of the Union address in 2003 drew 62 million viewers; and Bill Clinton's joint session speech in 1993 drew 67 million viewers. (A newly elected president's first address to a joint session of Congress is not considered a State of the Union speech.)
A White House official, who was not authorized to speak for the president and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that Trump intended to say that the cable ratings for his speech were the highest ever. In addition to the broadcast networks, the speech was carried on several cable networks, including Fox News, MSNBC and CNN, as well as the Spanish-language channels Univision and Telemundo.
Trump correctly noted in his tweet that Fox News had the highest viewership of the night.
The Nielsen numbers do not include data on streaming, which has significantly grown in popularity in recent years. And the figure Trump cites for Tuesday’s viewership does not include streaming data, which is difficult to measure.
Trump has previously made claims of superior numbers that have proved inexact, if not false.
On the first full day of his administration, Trump dispatched then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer to admonish the media for reporting that Trump’s inauguration crowd was smaller than other recent inauguration crowds.
“This is the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe,” Spicer told reporters.