Joe Biden outdrew US President Donald Trump in the broadcast-only ratings for their competing town-hall events Thursday. But the current might well pull ahead when cable numbers come in later Friday.
The Democratic challenger attracted 12.2 million viewers on ABC. Trump drew nearly 10.4 million viewers on NBC. The numbers will be subject to adjustments later Friday that could dramatically increase NBC’s total. Including the addition of audiences from cable channels operated by parent Comcast Corp.
The unusual dueling happened after Trump declined to participate in a virtual debate scheduled for the same date in Miami. The nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates recommended the matchup after Trump tested positive for COVID-19. ABC, owned by Walt Disney Co., scheduled Democrat Biden to appear alone, while NBC made a similar proposal to Trump.
NBC came under fire from media critics and some of its own employees for scheduling its event. More than 100 celebrities sent a letter to network management calling it a “disservice.”
But the network moderator, Savannah Guthrie, won praise for asking tough questions and examining his answers. That may have taken some heat off NBC for its scheduling decision.
After Trump defended retweeting a conspiracy theory about Biden orchestrating the killing of Navy SEALs to cover up the “fake” death of Bin Laden, she said, “You’re the president. You’re not, like, someone’s crazy uncle who can just retweet whatever.”
At a rally Thursday, President Trump criticized NBC and parent Comcast. But he said he decided to participate in the town hall anyway because it would “be a free hour of television.”
The total audience on the two networks will likely far short the 73.1 million viewers who tuned in to last month’s debate between the two competitors. The vice-presidential debate between Mike Pence and challenger Kamala Harris got 57.9 million viewers. This was the strongest showing in 12 years.
Town halls have proven to be modest public draws. The event with Joe Biden earlier this month drew 6.7 million viewers to NBC, MSNBC, and CNBC. Last month, ABC held a town hall with Trump that attracted nearly 4 million viewers. And a CNN broadcast with Biden drew 3.3 million viewers.
Thursday’s candidate conversations began at 8 p.m. NY time, with Trump on for an hour and Biden for about an hour and a half. The president’s audience total will likely rise later when results from NBC-owned networks come out. Comcast aired the Trump event on its MSNBC and CNBC channels live.