The drama of this week’s House speaker vote bears some resemblance to “Waiting for Godot.” Turns out that Americans are tuning in for political theatre.

According to Nielsen, live coverage of Representative Kevin McCarthy’s struggle to regain the House speakership — and fierce internal fighting in the Republican Party — has translated into higher-than-usual ratings for cable news.

And C-SPAN, the lo-fi cable network beloved by congressional cognoscenti, has gotten a big boost in attention thanks to its round-the-clock coverage of the House floor, now the site of a political battle for the ages.

For CNN and MSNBC, the pageant in Washington has proved to be a New Year’s gift after 2022, when both networks saw their audiences fall as Americans moved through the Trump era and the peak of the pandemic.

As Mr. McCarthy’s losing efforts mounted on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons, CNN edged out Fox News in the key demographic of viewers ages 25 to 54, a highly unusual victory against its higher-rated rival. Was.

In those daytime hours, losing ballot after ballot, both CNN and MSNBC attracted far larger audiences than their weekday averages. MSNBC said it was on pace for the network’s highest-rated week in the last 6 months, at least among daytime viewers in the 25–54 age demographic.

Fox News, long the No. 1 cable news network, dominated in total viewers this week. And while many conservatives have expressed dismay at the chaos among House Republicans, Fox News still scored big. The ratings of many of its opinion shows. Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, both prominent right-wing personalities, have been closely watched by the political class for where their sympathies lie in the ongoing drama.

However, no channel has enjoyed a bigger bout of cultural clout than C-SPAN, a media property with decades of experience in airing Congressional roll calls.

According to a spokesperson for Howard Mortman, C-SPAN is trending on Twitter and its mobile app has seen a record number of downloads. C-SPAN has not been rated by Nielsen, but its YouTube stream of Thursday’s proceedings was viewed 1.2 million times.

Typically, C-SPAN’s coverage of the House is monitored by the political party in charge of the chamber, which can control what C-SPAN viewers see and hear.

However, C-SPAN is allowed to control its cameras during the election of the House Speaker – a process that now extends into the fourth day, giving the network a longer period of independent editorial control than expected.

The result has been a more dynamic broadcast that has captured sotto voce moments between members not typically seen by the general public – and some have gone viral online. A side-by-side conversation between Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York attracted much attention partly because C-SPAN’s crew observed the two and trained a camera on them.

“In a way, the American people have benefited from seeing members of Congress in candid moments and conversations over the past few days,” Mr. Mortman said. “This past week has been an intense civics education in the way Congress operates, and the American people can see it all for themselves.”

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