More than 27 million viewers watched the dueling town halls of President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, according to Nielsen ratings.
ABC’s 90-minute town hall with Mr. Biden drew 14.1 million viewers. Mr. Trump’s hourlong town hall on NBC, its sister cable channels MSNBC and CNBC and Spanish-language network Telemundo averaged 13.5 million viewers.
The number of viewers for each candidate doesn’t reflect head-to-head competition as the two didn’t square off against each other in every market. Many NBC stations in the Mountain and Pacific time zones didn’t carry Mr. Trump’s town hall live, while all the ABC stations did so with Mr. Biden’s.
In Los Angeles, for example, Mr. Biden’s town hall was on at 5 p.m. PDT on the ABC-owned station KABC. However, the NBC-owned station KNBC opted to carry local news and air Mr. Trump at 8 p.m. NBC’s cable networks carried the debate live but they aren’t as widely distributed in the market as its broadcast station.
Mr. Trump has been known to watch TV ratings closely and brag about them throughout his career back to his days as host of the NBC show “The Apprentice.”
The decision of NBC News to air a town hall with Mr. Trump opposite ABC’s with Mr. Biden was questioned by media analysts, viewers on social media and even within some parts of the network. The network was criticized for providing Mr. Trump airtime after he refused to participate in a debate with Mr. Biden that was originally scheduled for Thursday.
NBC also was under fire for its decision to run the event opposite a previously scheduled Biden town hall, forcing viewers to choose between the two rather than airing it in another time slot.
NBCUniversal News Group Chairman Cesar Conde said Thursday, “We share in the frustration that our event will initially air alongside the first half of ABC’s broadcast with Vice President Biden. Our decision is motivated only by fairness, not business considerations.” NBC had previously aired a town hall with Mr. Biden also in the 8 p.m. hour.
The tone of the town halls differed greatly. Mr. Trump and Savannah Guthrie, the NBC News anchor who interviewed him, were often combative, while Mr. Biden and ABC News interviewer George Stephanopoulos were more collegial.
During the town hall, Mr. Trump told Ms. Guthrie he wasn’t sure he was tested for coronavirus on Sept. 29, the day of his first debate with Mr. Biden. Mr. Trump tested positive in the early hours of Oct. 2 and was subsequently hospitalized.
Mr. Trump dodged a request that he denounce the conspiracy-theory group known as QAnon. “I know nothing about QAnon,” he said. “I do know they are very much against pedophelia.”
Mr. Trump also didn’t dispute a report that he is liable for more than $400 million in debt, calling it “a tiny percentage of my net worth.”
At an event before Thursday night’s town hall, Mr. Trump referred to
as “Con-cast” and called NBC “the worst.” He also said he accepted to do the town hall because it is “a free hour on television.”
Although Mr. Biden’s town hall was more civil, he too faced some heat from his interviewer and the audience. The former vice president was put on the spot for his role in the 1994 crime bill as well his unwillingness to say whether or not he supports the idea of increasing the number of Supreme Court justices.
Messrs. Trump and Biden are scheduled to debate each other next week.
Write to Joe Flint at [email protected]
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