The inauguration of President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Vice President Kamala Harris took place on Wednesday, January 20, with events interspersed throughout the day, highlighted by the swearing-in ceremony at 12 p.m. EST and Biden’s inaugural address.
The Presidential Inaugural Committee put together a slimmed-down event that included reduced-capacity crowds, a virtual parade after the swearing-in and a simulcast TV special to celebrate the occasion.
Live U.S. coverage of the inauguration ceremony was provided by ABC, BET, CBS, Cheddar, CNN, C-SPAN, Fox News Channel, NBC/MSNBC/Peacock, Newsy, NPR, PBS, Sirius XM, Spectrum Networks, Telemundo and Univision.
Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration, featuring the oath of office and speech, posted 4% higher Nielsen-measured preliminary viewers among the top six viewing networks — with 39.87 million viewers — than Donald Trump’s oath of office and speech in 2017, which came in at 38.35 million.
Writing in mediapost.com, Wayne Friedman reported that CNN led the ratings among six broadcast and cable networks this year with 10 million viewers, followed by ABC at 7.7 million, NBC with 6.9 million, MSNBC at 6.5 million, CBS with 6.1 million and Fox News Channel at 2.7 million.
For the longer, five-hour inauguration programming period, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET, Biden’s viewer numbers were 9% higher than Trump’s in 2017 — at 29.445 million viewers versus 27.015 million viewers.
Four years ago, Fox News Channel was the most-viewed network — at 11.8 million for the half-hour oath of office and speech and 8.8 million for the longer, five-hour time period. Viewing for both Biden and Trump was lower than for Barack Obama’s first inaugural in 2009, which came in at 51.1 million viewers for the oath of office and address and 34.5 million viewers for the 11 a.m.-4 p.m. time period, according to Friedman.
For the inauguration, NBC handled pool coverage of Capitol Hill activities, CBS covered the parade route and ABC handled overseas coverage from Lafayette Park. According to Sports Video Group’s Ken Kerschbaumer, facilities provider Game Creek Video played a key role with its Glory A and B trucks deployed for NBC’s pool coverage at the Capitol, the Maverick truck for CBS unilateral coverage and the Gridiron for ABC’s pool coverage in Lafayette Park.
Game Creek Video’s SVP Technology Jason Taubman told SVG the Capitol is already fully wired with triax and fiber. “It’s just like a stadium. There is a place to roll up a truck and drag cables and connect to an IO box that is buried under some bushes.”
Inauguration Traditions and Ceremonies While Staying Home
Given the fact that attending the inauguration was off limits for the vast majority of people due to public health and safety concerns related to the pandemic, the Presidential Inauguration Committee teamed up with Snapchat to allow people to virtually attend.
The two parties joined forces on augmented reality lenses that could virtually transport Snapchatters to the event, with an exclusive clip of President Biden saying “Hey, Snapchat: It’s me, Joe. Welcome to inauguration.” They then gained access to a link enabling them to swipe up and watch the livestream of the inauguration program.
Presidential Inauguration Committee Digital Director Christian Tom said in a statement, “This year’s inauguration has allowed us to create new, innovative and creative tools for Americans across the country to participate in inaugural traditions and ceremonies while staying home to keep everyone safe.
“We are excited for President-elect Biden to share his message around unifying the country with folks on Snapchat and invite them to be a part of this historic inaugural. We hope this tool will bring the inaugural experience to young Americans wherever they are and encourage them to share it with their friends and families.”
NewsPlayer+, a super aggregator of English-speaking news channels, launched in the UK in time for Joe Biden’s inauguration. The new service carries over 15 channels, including Bloomberg TV, Euronews, Al Jazeera, Deutsche Welle, France TV and Turkey’s TRT and is available on Amazon Fire TV, browsers, iOS and Android devices.
NewsPlayer+ was developed by a team of OTT and pay-TV specialists whose backgrounds include the BBC, Britbox, CuriosityStream, Guardian News & Media and ITV, headed by CEO Richard Jacobs.
An Event Where There’s Nothing to Work Around
Bruce Springsteen, John Legend and Foo Fighters were among those who performed in Celebrating America, the January 20 primetime event celebrating the inauguration. ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC and PBS aired the event.
Tom Hanks hosted the two-hour special, with Eva Longoria and Kerry Washington introducing segments. President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke during the TV special. Demi Lovato, Justin Timberlake, Ant Clemons and Jon Bon Jovi also performed from what the organizers called “iconic locations across the country.”
According to deadline.com, the 90-minute special was executive produced by Stephanie Cutter and Ricky Kirschner, who spearheded last year’s Democratic National Convention. Rod O’Connor was a senior adviser for the virtual programming. This trio worked with other professionals who also helped produce the Democratic Convention, as well as past presidential inaugurations, Super Bowl halftime shows and the Tony Awards.
The special program was livestreamed on the Presidential Inaugural Committee’s social media channels — YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Twitch — and streaming partners included Amazon Prime Video, Microsoft Bing, NewsNow from Fox, and AT&T’s U-verse and DirecTV.
The production team hunkered down in a ballroom at a Washington, D.C. hotel and created a master control center along with catering and Covid testing for staff and crew.
Regarding the unique challenges faced by this production due to the prevalence of the pandemic, Executive Producer Ricky Kirschner said, “The election happens and then you start thinking about inaugural balls. The balls are a particular thing. There’s an event. There’s something to work around.”
“In this particular case,” Kirschner told Variety, “there was nothing to work around. There’s a pandemic and you don’t know if it’s getting better or worse, you have no idea where it’s going. I like to say that our plans were carved in Jello. Everything was moldable.”
Kirschner confirmed there were a lot more major acts who wanted to be part of the event but could not be accommodated due to the amount of time allocated to the show. It was critical that at this extraordinarily difficult time for the United States, each act looked to perform a song that was meaningful for the audience.
“Every act we talked to,” he told Variety, “from the minute we talked to them and said ‘You need to do a song that means something,’ they got it. It wasn’t like, ‘Here’s my new single.’ It was ‘OK, I understand what I’m part of.’”
Hollywood post house SIM created a remote workflow to edit hundreds of segments for Celebrating America, including performances from Justin Timberlake, Demi Lovato and John Legend.
As reported by Carolyn Giardina in The Hollywood Reporter, work started on the show more than one month out with hundreds of packages sent to SIM from all across the U.S. via Signiant’s file transfer technology — everything from professionally-produced clips to content captured with iPhones and drones.
A team led by lead editor Mike Polito worked at home on Avids, with collaboration and review via a cloud-based remote workflow using Frame.io technology. The team worked through a massive 3.3TB in total, including 2.7TB of source material — more than would normally be deployed on a feature production.