Early Ratings: Biden's ABC Town Hall Tops Trump's on NBC

Initial Nielsen numbers don’t include MSNBC viewership or time-zone adjustments

NBC/ABC

And the (ratings) battle of the Thursday town halls goes to…former Vice President Joe Biden and ABC! For now, at least.

On ABC, Biden drew 12.7 million viewers from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. On NBC alone, Trump got 10.4 million viewers in the same time slot.

Including the full 9 o’clock hour for Biden, the ABC event’s viewership average was 12.2 million.

Biden also beat Trump among adults 18-49, with a 2.6 rating to the president’s 1.7 rating.

The Trump town hall aired on NBC and was simulcast on NBCU cable channels MSNBC and CNBC. Trump was live coast-to-coast on cable, but waited for 8 p.m. PT for west-coasters. A few NBC affiliates in the mountain and pacific time zones may have elected to air Trump live.

The Biden town hall aired live coast-to-coast on ABC (and only ABC), which makes the above Nielsen numbers subject to significant adjustment for that network.

We’ll get the cable ratings — and final Nielsen numbers, which will be adjusted for time zone differences and include out-of-home viewing — later today.

To make things even less apples-to-apples, while both town halls started at 8 p.m. ET, Biden’s ran longer. While Trump’s event ended at 9 p.m. ET, Biden continued with moderator George Stephanopoulos until about 9:30 p.m. ET. The former vice president of the United States then stuck around answering questions from the sparse audience, though ABC News’ analysis ran over that audio.

NBC’s Oct. 5 Biden town hall initially drew 3.8 million viewers, according to the early, comparable (to our above numbers) data set from Nielsen.

In final, adjusted numbers that also — and more importantly — lumped in cable channels MSNBC (2.7 million) and CNBC (171,000), the Oct. 5 Biden town hall jumped to 6.7 million viewers, making the simulcast the most-watched town hall of the 2020 cycle. It also topped the 2016 town halls.

An additional 2 million viewers streamed the event on NBC News Now, NBC said.

Prior to Thursday, Trump’s lone town hall audience came in at 4 million viewers Sept. 15 on ABC, according to Nielsen. That broadcast-only number was better than Biden’s Oct. 5 NBC-only haul of 3.9 million viewers, which goes to show the power of a simulcast.

ABC, which is owned by Disney, does not really have cable channels that would make sense for a news programming simulcast. (We’re looking at you, ESPN and Freeform.)

In addition to his two thus far this October, Biden has had eight — yes, eight — other town halls in the past year or so. All have aired solely on CNN.

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