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Inauguration ratings uncertain

Following a historic campaign, Donald Trump will officially become the 45th U.S. president on Jan. 20.

Broadcasters ABC (US), CBS (US), FOX (US) and NBC (US); cable news networks FOX News Channel (US), MSNBC (US) and CNN (US); business networks CNBC (US), FOX Business Network (US) and Bloomberg Television (US) and C-SPAN (US) will be among the linear channels providing coverage of the event. Additionally, the networks' websites will stream the ceremony.

Other digital options include the White House’s feed, PBS (US)'s coverage appearing on Twitter Inc., as well as Google Inc.'s YouTube coverage, offering various news organizations' accounts of the event on their respective YouTube channels.

Beginning at around 11:30 a.m. ET, Trump is scheduled to be sworn in, take the oath of office, and then deliver his inaugural address from the U.S. Capitol building. Starting at 3 p.m., the inaugural parade, with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence leading the way, is set to move down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House.

Given the uproar in many circles over Trump's upset win over Hillary Clinton, the workday schedule and expanded digital accessibility, it remains unclear how many will tune into watch the linear coverage of the events. However, the three presidential debates in the fall of 2016 scored the largest average audience for such forums, while Nov. 8, 2016, stands as the second-most-watched election night.

Looking to the most recent inauguration day, when President Barack Obama stepped into his second-term in office on Jan. 21, 2013, 18 networks aired live coverage from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. ET on what was the Martin Luther King holiday. According to data from Nielsen Holdings, the networks combined to average a 14.0 household rating translating into nearly 20.6 million viewers.

Those deliveries continued the trend for second-time inaugurations, as the audience was down significantly from Obama’s initial ceremony four years earlier, when he became the first African-American to assume the nation’s highest office. On Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009, 17 broadcast and cable networks tallied a collective 25.5 rating and 37.8 million viewers from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., according to Nielsen live + same-day data. That means coverage of Obama’s second inauguration yielded ratings and viewership drops of 45.1% and 45.5%, respectively, from when he became the 44th president four years earlier.

The day in 2009 marked the second-largest inauguration audience since Nielsen began tracking the event in the late 1960s. Ronald Reagan’s first inauguration on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 1981, registered the largest of these audiences to date, with a 37.4 rating and 41.8 million viewers, during the dawn of the cable era.

The networks saw smaller audiences with their coverage of the second-term inaugurations of Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Reagan, but Richard Nixon bucked that trend. The audience watching Nixon being sworn in for a second time on Saturday, Jan. 20, 1973, totaled about 33 million, up from 27 million on Monday, Jan. 20, 1969, when he became the nation's 37th president.