After a two-week break, on January 6e Congressional hearings will return live on July 12e at 10 a.m. (ET). The previous six hearings had been broadcast live, the first on June 8 during prime time and the other five during the daytime on weekdays when TV usage is lower.
Each hearing highlighted a specific element of the attack on the Capitol on January 6, it is a storyline comparable to a television series. Plus, like an entertainment program, at the end of each audience there was a preview (aka “upcoming attractions”) of what to expect in the next installment.
James Goldston, former president of ABC News, worked with the congressional committee as an adviser. The hearings were a combination of live testimony, video clips, pre-recorded depositions and scripted commentary. The New York Times
reported that the third hearing was postponed because the production team needed more time.
Andrew Heyward, research professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and mass communication and the former president of CBS News said, “I have no problem with the comparison to a television series, as long as we remember that the ratings are a serious investigation into a cataclysmic historical event, not an entertainment show. That said, the planners did a good job of tailoring the hearings to the audience rather than the egos of politicians.
The premiere audience, with its prime-time exposure, garnered the most interest from viewers, reporting an average viewership of around 20 million viewers. The sixth and final hearing in June was marked by surprise testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson, a close aide to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. This hearing (June 28) was announced at the last minute and averaged 13.2 million viewers, the second most watched to date and a 23% increase over the average of the previous four daytime hearings .
In today’s split video landscape, viewership across all six audiences averaged 12.3 million viewers. (Ratings add up across multiple cable news and broadcast networks.) That was comparable to the average viewership for the 2022 NBA Finals on ABC, the highest-rated show in June. Additionally, only the NFL averaged more primetime viewership on broadcast television in 2021-22. Among entertainment shows only NCIS to 10.9 million and the FBI at 10.3 million averaged over ten million viewers for the season.
Nielsen reported that approximately 55 million viewers tuned in to watch part of the hearings. As with virtually all linear television programming (especially news) these days, the audience profile of ratings is skewed towards older people, with around three-quarters of the audience being over 55 years old.
In mid-June Quinnipiac University conducted a survey of the January 6 hearings, finding that more than half of Americans tuned in to the hearings; with 26% saying they followed “very closely” and 32% followed “fairly closely”. As one might expect, interest in the hearings varied across political viewpoints.
As most January 6 hearings last at least two hours, these days in this age of information overload, there are a number of options available to get hearing information instead of live TV. . These include streaming video, social media, podcasts, blogs, and talk radio. Often, these media platforms have a particular political orientation. Plus, these recaps are similar to watching highlights of a long-running sporting event broadcast on local news or cable sports networks. As a result, the live TV audience of the hearings, which were simpler, weren’t as strong despite the explosive testimonies.
The interest in audiences and the current political climate can best be exemplified by Fox News. During the ratings, the ratings of Fox News, the top-rated cable news network, lagged behind CNN and MSNBC. The network opted out of televising the first prime time audience, opting to stick with its regular lineup of Tucker Carlson tonight and Hannity without advertising. For the other five, Fox News televised the hearings live. During Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony that took place after 5 p.m. ET, Fox News opted to cut the live testimony and air its highest-rated show. The five In place. The result more than triple the audience of the previous two hours. Additionally, a survey of National search found that 37% of registered voters had heard little or nothing about the hearings.
With the hearings resuming from Jan. 6, Committee Member Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD) said the next hearing will focus on the roles and actions of domestic violent extremist groups, conspirators and organizations of far right. They will investigate how the mob that stormed the Capitol was organized, gathered and financed.
The January 6 hearings coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Watergate break-in, and subsequent Senate hearings were televised the following summer. Andrew Heyward adds: “The obvious comparison [to January 6] It was the Watergate hearings that also married history to great drama in a way we still remember nearly 50 years later. It will be interesting to see if organizers of more mundane hearings in the future will take inspiration from this “new” playbook.”