Not that the networks will make any money off of it, but President Obama's healthcare reform speech was a huge hit, according to Nielsen. All told, across the ten broadcast and cable networks on which the Wednesday night speech aired, 31 million Americans watched, adding up to a combined household rating of 20.4 and a share of 35. As my headline implies, that means that more Americans watched the speech -- set, of course, against a highly partisan backdrop even before Rep. Joe Wilson's infamous, um commentary -- than watched the "American Idol" finale this year. That drew 28.8 million viewers, albeit on only one network. (It's important to remember that the massive coverage of the Obama speech left fewer alternative viewing options.)
But still ... 31 million? That's a lot of people, especially when one considers that the heavy partisanship of the healthcare reform issue would have you believing that much of the country would just tune the president out. Why spend time watching a guy who you don't believe in? I'm too used to interpreting ratings figures solely for how they affect TV networks' bottom lines to know how such data is interpreted in Washington, but it would be a fascinating bit of analysis to look at what high ratings for a policy speech by a president mean in terms of public sentiment concerning the issue being discussed.