Data from the Nielsen ratings agency revealed that former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before Congress on Thursday attracted large audiences to U.S. broadcast and cable networks, drawing approximately 19.5 million viewers.
Although that number represents a big audience for a daytime event, it fell short of the 30.6 million who watched President Trump’s January inauguration.
People who streamed the Comey hearing on computers and mobile phones or watched in bars or restaurants were not accounted for in Nielsen’s estimates which included people watching on 10 U.S. broadcast and cable television networks. Regular programming was interrupted by broadcasters in order to show nearly three hours of live coverage of Comey’s testimony regarding his interactions with the president before Trump dismissed him in May.
According to Jeffery Jones, director of journalism’s Peabody Awards and a professor at the University of Georgia, the number of viewers of the Comey hearing was impressive for an event carried during a work day. Jones was in the Atlanta airport on Thursday and saw crowds gathered around televisions to watch the hearing.
“Politics is quite often about theater and drama, and this was a classic showdown,” he said. “People wanted to see it for themselves.”
NBC news noted that “Alphabet Inc’s YouTube reported nearly 800,000 peak concurrent viewers across streams from 20 news outlets. Twitter Inc. said the average minute audience for its livestream of Bloomberg’s coverage was 129,000 viewers.”
The most-watched television event to date in 2017 is the NFL Super Bowl, which attracted 111 million viewers in February. On Wednesday, game three of the NBA Finals drew about 20 million for its primetime broadcast.
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