State of the Union Speech and TV Viewership

With these words on Tuesday, Barack Obama addressed the joint session of the United States Congress, and US National TV Live, with his annual ‘State of the Union’ Speech.

Many incredible, yet powerful, assertions were made throughout the speech.

“The lowest unemployment rate in over five years. A rebounding housing market. A manufacturing sector that’s adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s. More oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world – the first time that’s happened in nearly twenty years. Our deficits – cut by more than half”.

He also said, “And for the first time in over a decade, business leaders around the world have declared that China is no longer the world’s number one place to invest; America is”.

Now, we have all seen how leaders of nations use logic and rhetoric to instill confidence in their compatriots. The promises they make, the confidence they ooze, and the announcements they proclaim usually have an inspiring effect on the listeners.

As a very good orator, Obama too has had that desired inspirational effect this time.

Even though his critics are not happy with it, I believe this was a much-needed speech considering the current grim economic environment – with fiscal cliffs and government shutdowns there.

However, much to my surprise, I learnt that this speech had had the worst viewership since 2000, according to Nielson Co. which monitors television ratings.

It means that lesser people have viewed it than earlier.

This speech of January 2014 they say has had only 33.3 million viewers, even though 16 networks carried the speech live, its biggest total of networks ever.

Contrast this with Obama’s largest audience for his first address in 2009. Some 52 million people tuned in to see and listen. And it was broadcast by only 10 networks then.

By comparison, according to UK’s Daily Mail, President Bush’s smallest audience for a State of the Union speech was 37.5 million in 2008, and President Clinton’s was 31.5 million in 2000.

So, it makes me wonder if US citizens have lost interest in Obama’s State of the Union (SOTU) speeches as being just the regular rhetoric, and switched off to other channels. Yes. I think they did.

We must admit, of course, that Obama’s first address of 2009 has had tremendous attention, novelty, excitement and value because he had become the first black President of US. It was a historic moment. So comparing 52 million of 2009 and 33 million of 2014 does not seem fair.

Yet, the fact that the smallest ever audience for a Bush SOTU speech was 37.5 million (in 2008) shows us that Obama SOTU speech of 2014 was not an audience-puller at all.

This weekend’s Super Bowl in USA is likely to pull much more audience – well over 100 million viewers.

But, on speech content, I would give this week’s speech of Obama a positive and high rating.

We must actually appreciate the 33 year old Cody Keenan, Obama’s speech writer who took over this job very recently, and has surprised everyone with his talent .

I hope it will really be a “year of action” as Obama announced, because if it is action for US, it is action for many other countries too.

Whether fully true or not, I see obstinate optimism in the words of Obama: “After five years of grit and determined effort, the United States is better-positioned for the 21st century than any other nation on Earth”.