On the first day of the televised impeachment hearings against President Trump, the two most popular TV news channels were the two mostly closely associated with political parties.
Fox News, the favorite among Trump and other Republicans, had the single biggest audience during the daytime hearings. It averaged 2.9 million viewers at any given time between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Wednesday, according to Nielsen (NLSN) TV ratings.
MSNBC, the favorite among Democrats, was closely behind. MSNBC averaged 2.7 million viewers during the hearings.
On a typical day, Fox News has about 1.5 million viewers during the daytime hours, and MSNBC has closer to 1 million, so viewing levels were certainly elevated due to the impeachment hearings.
The ratings contradict claims from some of the president’s allies, including one of his sons, Eric Trump, who said on Fox News that “no one was watching it. No one cares.”
Clearly lots of people cared enough to tune in. They also wanted to see the spin later in the day — Fox’s Sean Hannity had one of his highest-rated shows of the year, with 4.4 million total viewers.
It’s impossible to estimate how many people watched or heard the hearings across all platforms, since television, radio and streaming video are all measured in different ways.
Some people consumed the hearing in one sitting, but the more common experience is much more scattered — hearing snippets on the air and seeing clips on social media and headlines on phones.
But a much greater total number of people saw some portion of the hearings over the course of six hours. The granular Nielsen data shows fluctuations throughout the proceedings.
CNN, for example, averaged 1.85 million viewers during the entire hearing, peaking at 11 a.m. when more than 2.1 million were tuned in.
The cumulative average audience for the big six channels listed above was 13 million — about on par with the day former special counsel Robert Mueller testified in July.
Wednesday’s hearing was also carried live on PBS; by some local Fox stations; by C-SPAN; and by other television networks.
And the hearing was streamed almost everywhere, on a wide variety of social networks and news websites.
CNN Digital reported strong but not off-the-charts interest in live streams of the testimony.
There’s no Nielsen-like way to measure cumulative viewership on the web.
But the overnight ratings indicate that the impeachment hearing reached both political junkies and a wider group of daytime TV viewers.
The vast majority of Americans, however, didn’t watch the entire event live — they soaked it up through social media and heard about it later.