More Tuned In for State of the Union Than Last Year


Seizing one of his biggest media moments ahead of the election in November, President Biden delivered a State of the Union address on Thursday that doubled as a campaign kickoff speech, presenting himself to Americans as a still-feisty leader prepared for the rigor of a grueling campaign.

Whether his pitch resonates with voters remains to be seen. But plenty tuned in to see what he was offering.

The live viewership for Mr. Biden’s speech will probably exceed last year’s television audience of 27.3 million, according to early figures released by Nielsen on Friday. Preliminary numbers show that roughly 28 million people watched on major cable and broadcast networks — a number that will probably grow once smaller channels are included. A final count is expected by Friday evening.

The 66-minute-long appearance is likely to end up as the second-most-watched of Mr. Biden’s speeches to Congress. His first, in 2021, attracted 26.9 million viewers, and about 38.2 million watched in 2022, days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Mr. Biden’s next opportunity to command such a large audience is likely to be the presidential debates scheduled for the fall. Speeches at summertime political conventions do not usually draw more viewers than a State of the Union address.

Nielsen ratings do not account for many Americans who tuned in via streaming TV platforms, online news sites and social media posts. That group is a growing share of the total audience as viewers abandon traditional cable systems. But there is no agreed-upon metric to accurately measure online views, so Nielsen data offers the best comparison to past years.

On Thursday night, Fox News attracted 5.6 million viewers, the largest live audience of any network for the time slot that encompassed Mr. Biden’s speech and the Republican rebuttal by Senator Katie Britt of Alabama. ABC was watched by about five million people, the biggest audience of the three biggest broadcast networks.

NBC was top-ranked among viewers ages 25 to 54, the most important demographic for advertisers in the TV news industry.

Aides to Mr. Biden appear to be gradually letting him out of a media cocoon after allies raised concerns about his limited public appearances. In particular, a decision by the White House to skip a traditional interview ahead of the Super Bowl set off alarm bells in Democratic circles.

The president is now embarking on a series of campaign stops. On Saturday, he is scheduled to sit for an interview with Jonathan Capehart, a left-leaning host and commentator on MSNBC. The interview will be Mr. Biden’s first with a major television network since he spoke with Scott Pelley of CBS News in October.



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