Jun 14, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Hearings become political theater

Viewership of Trump-era political hearings
Data: Nielsen; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

The Trump era drew many eyeballs around a slew of high-drama political hearings, but last week's Jan. 6 hearing has nearly topped them all.

The big picture: The Jan. 6 committee tried hard to grab America's fleeting attention by holding the hearing in prime time and by enlisting a former network news executive in the production.

Be smart: The Jan. 6 committee has a much higher degree of control about what gets presented than in other high-profile hearings: It can selectively choose who speaks and when information gets presented for maximum impact.

By the numbers: The hearing last week nearly doubled the TV audience of the first three games of the ongoing NBA Finals, which averaged nearly 12 million viewers on ABC, per Nielsen.

  • Major Trump-era hearings also drew high engagement compared to other national TV events. The final games of the 2021 World Series and the NBA finals drew 11.7 million and 9.91 million viewers, respectively, while the Brett Kavanaugh and James Comey hearings drew around 20 million viewers each.
  • The Academy Awards, Grammys, Emmys and Golden Globes all drew fewer than 10 million viewers in 2021. Even the Olympics opening ceremonies drew just 15.1 and 14 million viewers in 2020 and 2021, respectively.

The latest: Most major news and broadcast networks took Monday's hearing live on Monday morning, including Fox News, which didn't carry it live last week. (It instead carried it live on its sister network Fox Business.)

  • Still, it's unlikely those broadcasts drew the same level of engagement as the highly anticipated prime-time event last week. Ratings for Monday's hearing are due out later on Tuesday.
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