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Barack Obama inaugural may set TV ratings records

January 16, 2009 |  1:04 pm

To the historic nature of Barack Obama's swearing-in as the 44th president Tuesday, we may add this: The telecast will probably set TV ratings records.

Live coverage will run throughout the day on the broadcast and cable news networks, as well as on CSPAN, BET and even Comedy Central. And the intense interest in the new president virtually guarantees high numbers.

The most-watched presidential inauguration was the 1981 ceremony for Ronald Reagan, which totaled nearly 42 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.

The lowest audience was the 15.5 million viewers for George W. Bush's second inaugural in 2005. Nielsen says that first inaugurals tend to do better than second ones — which proves that in politics, as in entertainment, viewers gravitate toward the new.

One wild card for the Obama viewership, however, will be online viewing, which is not included in Nielsen's TV measurements.

— Scott Collins