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Obama’s Inauguration Belies a Larger Issue

Barack Obama

The numbers are in for the Obama inauguration. Roughly 20.5 million tuned in to see the President’s second inauguration according to numbers watcher Neilsen. As these events go, it was the second lowest viewership for a second inauguration (Bush in 2005 was the lowest), quite a ways back from Nixon’s in 1973, which was the highest at 32 million.

So why would that be? The turnout at the event was large. In fact between 800,000 and 1 million are said to have witnessed the event first hand – one of the largest (if not the largest) crowds for a second term confirmation.

One of the contributing factors to the lower viewership can be attributed to the increasingly fractioning of the television landscape. In 1973 there were three networks in the US. Today with cable there are many more. Neilsen however counted viewers from 18 networks so the comparison of many channels when argued seems weak as the total viewership is being counted – regardless of number of channels. Could it be then that with so many other channels besides the 18 that carried the event that viewers have more choice? Most likely. In earlier times with fewer channels the total percentage of those carrying the event would have been higher. But that also cannot be the whole story.

The last four years, let alone the last ten have seen major changes to how people seek, receive and interact with live events. Social media and the increase of live and streaming video have changed how we access news. True too is the manner of devices that we choose to use to access news is different. Smart phones were just emerging at the last inauguration and tablets were still things that we thought was made of stone when mentioned in conversation.

With the increased penetration of third and fourth screen devices into the market, we can expect more fractionation of viewership. The opportunity of course is that with digital platform delivery, there comes the ability to tap into viewers of content with advertisements that speak directly to those who have shown a propensity in the past for products or services similar to what a particular brand might want to push to the viewer.

Still, don’t rule out the powerhouse of television. Combined with online content, the rise of smart televisions will certainly change again how one chooses to view and interact with events and content from broadcasters.

The story for the next four years has yet to be written, but we will certainly see another change to this story by the time the next inauguration rolls by.