Around the world, Biden’s message about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was seen by a much larger total audience, but there is no standardized way to measure audience across countries and platforms.
In his own country alone, 33 million people watched Biden’s speech on nine different English-language networks, according to overnight ratings.
This figure will increase once smaller networks, Spanish listening and out-of-home listening are all taken into account.
But Tuesday night’s incomplete total is already higher than the overall total from Biden’s first speech to a joint session of Congress last April.
Nielsen estimated that 26.9 million people watched this speech on 16 cable and broadcast networks.
The high interest in the war in Ukraine certainly helped boost viewership of Biden’s speech this time around.
CNN on Tuesday recorded its highest viewership for a State of the Union address since 2009, the year newly inaugurated President Barack Obama made his first address to a joint session of Congress.
Ratings from CNN and Fox News have been very high over the past week, reflecting widespread American interest in war coverage.
During the State of the Union, Fox News had the largest overall audience, with approximately 6.9 million viewers. ABC was the highest-rated broadcast network, with 5.9 million viewers, and CNN averaged 4.6 million.
Biden’s total viewership will be less than former President Donald Trump’s State of the Union addresses. Trump’s first three speeches at joint sessions of Congress drew between 45 and 48 million viewers; its latest State of the Union viewership fell to 37 million viewers.
Outside of the political sphere, TV viewership for live events is shrinking as more people spend more time watching on-demand programming.
Nielsen’s live TV estimates don’t account for all the ways an event like a presidential speech is broadcast over the Internet, let alone radio and other formats.