It’s all about the hype.
It’s a big waste of everyone’s time, but it wasn’t always so. While our first two Presidents, Washington and Adams, delivered their annual reports to Congress in the form of a speech President Thomas Jefferson started the tradition of delivering the State of the Union in writing.
Jefferson wrote in a letter to the President of the Senate accompanying his State of the Union address that delivering his address in person was “inconvenient.”
“The circumstances under which we find ourselves at this place rendering inconvenient the mode heretofore practiced of making by personal address the first communications between the legislative and executive branches, I have adopted that by message, as used on all subsequent occasions through the session. In doing this I have had principal regard to the convenience of the Legislature, to the economy of their time, to their relief from the embarrassment of immediate answers on subjects not yet fully before them, and to the benefits thence resulting to the public affairs. Trusting that a procedure rounded in these motives will meet their approbation, I beg leave through you, sir, to communicate the inclosed message, with the documents accompanying it, to the honorable the Senate, and pray you to accept for yourself and them the homage of my high respect and consideration.”
More to the point, Jefferson believed the State of the Union was far too similar to the traditional “speech from the throne” delivered in monarchies, notably the British monarchy Jefferson had helped America leave behind.