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Obama gets highest TV ratings since Reagan, sets web records

By Greg Bensinger and Andy Fixmer

Bloomberg News

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 21 2009 2:10 p.m. MST

Barack Obama attracted the largest television audience for a presidential inauguration since Ronald Reagan in 1981, and record numbers watched the swearing-in on Web sites including Time Warner Inc.'s CNN.

Coverage of the 44th president's inauguration produced a 29.2 rating in the 56 largest U.S. media markets, New York-based Nielsen Co. said today in an e-mailed statement. Nielsen plans to release detailed audience information later today.

With his election as the first black U.S. president on Nov. 4, Obama has become a one-man stimulus package, spurring Web sites, publishers and television networks to promote their products with his image.

"Media companies are definitely riding the wave of excitement around Obama, the newness of this whole administration," said media consultant Peter Kreisky in New York. "They're all hoping this will last as long as possible."

CNN.com delivered 26.9 million live video streams yesterday, topping its previous high on Nov. 4 for the U.S. election by more than fourfold, said spokeswoman Jennifer Martin. At its peak, the Web site was furnishing 1.3 million simultaneous live streams, she said.

Akamai Technologies Inc. said a record of more than 7 million people watched video streams yesterday on sites it provides services to, such as News Corp.'s WSJ.com and New York Times Co.'s NYTimes.com. Viewers logged on to sites at their desks to see the midday swearing-in ceremony rather than watch it on television, said spokesman Jeff Young.

Typical Day

On typical days, 2 million people watch video streams over the Internet through Akamai, Young said.

FoxNews.com's more than 5 million video streams yesterday was a record as well, said Rich White, a spokesman for the Web site, owned by News Corp.

Reagan attracted a 37.4 rating and 41.8 million viewers to his first installation in 1981. He drew 25 million viewers and a 22.3 rating at his second ceremony. There are 114.5 million TV households, according to Nielsen.

The Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, market had the highest level of TV viewing for Obama at more than 51 percent of households. Seattle-Tacoma had the lowest viewership at 18.8 percent, Nielsen said.

As many as 2 million people flocked to Washington to see Obama, 47, take the presidential oath.

George W. Bush's second inauguration in 2005 attracted the smallest audience with 15.5 million viewers, according to Nielsen. Each rating point equals 1 percent of the 114.5 million U.S. TV households.

.T Inauguration TV Audiences Since 1969

President Viewers Rating. Year

in millions Ronald Reagan 41.8 37.4 1981 Jimmy Carter 34.1 31.5 1977 Richard Nixon 33.0 28.5 1973 Bill Clinton 29.7 24.5 1993 George W. Bush 29.0 20.8 2001 Richard Nixon 27.0 33.5 1969 Ronald Reagan 25.1 22.3 1985 George H.W. Bush 23.3 20.0 1989 Bill Clinton 21.6 17.1 1997 George W. Bush 15.5 11.8 2005

.Each rating point equals 1 percent of U.S. TV households.

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