TV viewership for Mueller hearings falls flat

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CNN
July 24, 2019: Special counsel Robert Mueller testifies to Congress.

If Democrats were banking on massive viewership of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s televised testimony, they’re feeling broke today.

The Mueller hearings had a loyal audience, but they didn’t break any ratings records. Not by a long shot.

Preliminary Nielsen ratings totals — which are subject to adjustment — show an average of 13 million viewers across six major networks Wednesday.

This is an average of the audience that was watching at home on TV throughout the two hearings, which together lasted a total of seven hours. Not everyone watched the whole time, so the total audience for the event, known as “reach” in TV lingo, was much higher.

Not everyone watched on TV, either. Some tuned in to the hearings on radio, social media sites and streaming services, and those consumers are not counted in the Nielsen data, which includes ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News.

But with all those caveats aside, the Nielsen TV data allows for an apples to apples comparison to other televised hearings, and that comparison shows relatively tepid interest.

When the final Nielsen ratings come in, the Mueller hearings are likely to be in line with Michael Cohen’s testimony back in February.

In a possible sign of Trump-related fatigue, neither the Mueller or Cohen hearings were as highly-rated as former FBI Director James Comey’s explosive day of testimony in June 2017, which drew about 20 million viewers.

The Mueller hearings were undeniably important and worthy of televising. Mueller’s affirmations about Trump’s possible obstruction of justice and Russia’s ongoing meddling led the nightly news and Thursday’s newspapers. So the testimony had the effect of amplifying the probe’s findings to a national audience.

But it may be that viewers could tell it was a rerun of sorts.

During the day Wednesday, cable news ratings were roughly double their usual levels, showing that Mueller was definitely a draw.

But ratings have been higher for other major events in the past year — like the tense hearing about Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.