ABC Outdraws NBC in Thursday’s Dueling Presidential Town Halls

Biden's audience was larger, despite Trump's telecast also airing on MSNBC and CNBC

Photo of Joe Biden and Donald Trump
13.9 million people watched Joe Biden on ABC, while the Trump town hall drew 13.1 million on NBC, MSNBC and CNBC. Getty Images
Headshot of A.J. Katz

The ratings for Thursday’s controversial presidential town hall faceoff between NBC and ABC are in, and ABC’s Joe Biden broadcast was the ratings winner—even though NBC News simulcast its President Trump town hall across multiple networks—according to early Nielsen data released this afternoon. (Note: This story will be updated later today with additional Nielsen data.)

The two-hour ABC News Town Hall broadcast with former vice president Biden, moderated by George Stephanopoulos, delivered 13.9 million total viewers and 4.57 million in the adults 25-54 demo most coveted by news marketers from 8-10 p.m. ET. Meanwhile, NBC News’ hourlong town hall with Trump, moderated by Savannah Guthrie, delivered 13.1 million total viewers, and 3.62 million adults 25-54 across NBC, MSNBC and CNBC from 8-9 p.m. ET.

ABC’s 13.9 million total viewers figure represents its largest average audience in that particular two-hour time period in more than 10 years. Head-to-head against the Trump town hall, the first hour of the Biden town hall averaged 14.1 million total viewers and 4.49 million adults 25-54.

Last night’s town hall with Biden significantly outdrew the 90-minute ABC News town hall with Trump on Sept. 16, which averaged just 3.97 million viewers. Biden’s ABC audience was 250% larger than Trump’s.

NBC’s Trump town hall ratings were up 96% in total viewers and 163% in adults 25-54 compared to its Oct. 5 town hall with Biden, which drew 6.7 million total viewers across NBC, MSNBC and CNBC—3.85 million of whom watched on NBC, while 2.67 million other tuned in on MSNBC.

However, even the combined ratings of both town halls—27 million—is less than half of what the likely audience would have been for the second presidential debate, which had been scheduled for Thursday night until Trump pulled out last week after objecting to the Commission on Presidential Debates’ decision to shift to a virtual format as a result of the president contracting Covid-19.

Roughly 73 million viewers watched the first debate, and while second presidential debates rarely outperform first debates, the audience likely wouldn’t have been significantly smaller. As a result, both candidates missed out on an opportunity to bring their respective messages to a much wider swath of the American public.


@ajkatztv aj.katz@adweek.com A.J. Katz is the senior editor of Adweek's TVNewser.
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