Obamania Fills Screens

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President Obama's inauguration set new online-viewing records and gave cable networks a ratings boost.

The ceremonies and festivities in the nation's capital last Tuesday were a special boon for CNN, which emerged as the ratings champ among not only its rival cable news channels but also CBS, at least during one time slot, according to Nielsen data.

CNN drew 8.5 million total viewers — for the actual swearing-in ceremony and inaugural address in Washington — from noon to 12:30 p.m. on Jan. 20, with more Americans turning to that all-news cable channel than any other, according to Nielsen data supplied by that network.

CNN even topped CBS with its coverage of the actual swearing-in and address, by about 49,000 total viewers, and in the 25-to-54 demographic as well for that time period.

“At noon, we beat CBS, which is terrific, and we out-delivered MSNBC and Fox combined in [viewers] 25 to 54 during that time,” said Jack Wakshlag, Turner Broadcasting System's chief research officer.

Obama's installation didn't take honors as the highest-rated Inauguration Day ever, landing in second place. Overall, 37.8 million viewers watched inauguaral TV coverage on 17 cable and broadcast networks last Tuesday, which translates to a 25.5 rating, according to Nielsen. President Reagan's 1981 ceremony remained the most-watched, with an audience of 41.8 million and a 37.4 rating.

That sizable 1981 viewership, according to Wakshlag, reflected the popularity of then-incoming President Reagan.

What was a new, more important twist for this Inauguration Day was the degree to which Americans, many of them at work, turned to the Internet to watch Obama coverage last Tuesday.

CNN.com served a record-breaking 1.3 million concurrent live streams in the moments leading up to Obama's inaugural address Tuesday, beating the previous Internet record of an estimated 700,000 concurrent live streams served during a YouTube event.

“When you're talking abut 1.3 million streams, that's like talking about 1.3 million viewers,” Wakshlag said. “And that's a really big number. It's the biggest number we've seen anyone report by at least a factor of two.”

CNN.com had more than 36.7 million total video streams Inauguration Day, with 26.9 million live streams. That shattered its previous all-time daily-streaming best, set on Election Day last year with 5.3 million live streams.

MSNBC reported 9.1 million live streams for Inauguration Day, and a total of 18.2 million online video streams, a new video-stream record for the news outlet, breaking a previous record set during the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007.

Fox News Channel had 5 million live streams of inauguration coverage, which was the network's best delivery day ever for live streaming.

“Not everybody has a television in their office, like some people do, and people take advantage of the opportunity to watch an event that interests them in any way they can,” Wakshlag said of Americans watching the inauguration on their computers.

“This is about customer convenience, control, what you want when you want it,” he said. “People wanted to see Barack Obama get inaugurated, and they found a way. We were an enabling technology.”

In terms of cable-news ratings for the inauguration, from noon to 12:30 p.m. CNN was followed by Fox News Channel with 5.5 million total viewers, with MSNBC trailing in third place with 3.1 million, according to Nielsen data.

CNN's 8.497 million viewers at noon beat CBS's 8.448 million, but lagged behind NBC, with 12.9 million viewers, and ABC, with 12.2 million.

BET's inauguration coverage from noon to 12:30 p.m. drew 334,000 viewers, while TV One garnered 143,000 viewers and BBC America had 70,000, according to Nielsen data provided by the Disney/ABC Television Group.

From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, CNN was also rated No. 1 among cable news channels, tallying 6.9 million viewers, with Fox News Channel drawing in 4.4 million and MSNBC attracting an audience of 2.6 million.

For the total day of the inauguration, 6 a.m. to 3 a.m., CNN placed first again against its cable-news rivals, racking up 4 million total viewers, versus Fox's 2.5 million and MSNBC's 1.7 million, according to Nielsen. It marked CNN's highest 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. average in its history.

CNN dominated in the key news demographic, 25 to 54, as well.

For the actual swearing-in ceremony, CNN drew 3.5 million viewers in that age group, more than Fox News and MSNBC combined. Fox News had 1.7 million in that age group for the swearing-in and address, while MSNBC had 1.1 million.

On Inauguration Day, the CNN Digital Network — which includes CNN.com and several other Web sites — was the No. 1 news and information Internet property across all Nielsen Online metrics.

CNN Digital had 11 million unique visitors, which made it the most visited online news destination, outperforming its nearest competitors, the MSNBC Digital Network and Yahoo! News by 10% and 21%, respectively. Second place MSNBC's digital properties had 10 million unique visitors.

R. Thomas Umstead contributed to this story.