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Biden’s ABC town hall ratings beat Trump’s three-network NBC event

The final Nielsen data includes streaming as well as broadcast figures for Thursday night’s rival shows.

President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden appeared at separate town halls on Oct. 15, the night that was supposed to be their second debate. (Video: The Washington Post)

This story, originally published at 2:21 p.m., has been updated with Nielsen’s final ratings count.

Nearly 700,000 more viewers on Thursday watched former vice president Joe Biden’s town hall live on television than those who watched President Trump’s, according to data released Friday afternoon by measurement company Nielsen.

Biden’s town hall on ABC averaged 14.1 million viewers, compared to about 13.5 million for Trump’s NBC town hall. The higher figure for Biden’s event is particularly surprising given that he appeared just on one network, compared to Trump, whose town hall was simulcast on MSNBC and CNBC.

According to ABC, “The Vice President and the People” is the network’s most-watched prime-time telecast since the Oscars in February.

The Fix’s Natalie Jennings analyzes the separate town halls held by President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Oct. 15. (Video: The Washington Post)

These figures from Nielsen includes streaming services such as Roku or Apple TV viewed on television sets. While both town halls began at 8 p.m., Trump’s NBC event lasted one hour, whereas Biden’s went on for an additional 30 minutes, spilling into the 9 o’clock hour.

These final numbers slightly narrow the ratings gap for NBC from Nielsen’s preliminary data earlier in the day, which counted television-only viewers and found 13.9 million watching Biden compared to just over 13 million who watched Trump across the three networks.

Both events paled in comparison to the audience that potentially would have watched them together. The Sept. 29 presidential debate attracted an estimated 73.1 million viewers who tuned in across 16 networks, per Nielsen.

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The second presidential debate had been scheduled for Thursday, but Trump refused to participate under the new rules established for it. The nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates had announced after the chaos of the first debate that it would “ensure additional tools to maintain order are in place for the remaining debates.” And after the president’s positive coronavirus diagnosis, the commission announced the second debate would take place virtually. When Trump refused to participate, Biden accepted ABC’s standing invitation to conduct a televised town hall Thursday.

In response, Trump accepted NBC’s standing invitation for a town hall, to take place at the same time as Biden’s — a move for which NBC was roundly criticized, given viewers would have to choose between watching Trump or Biden, rather than being able to watch both candidates live.

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Both candidates have now participated in town halls hosted by ABC and NBC. Trump’s Sept. 15 town hall on ABC was seen by 3.8 million people, per Nielsen. Biden’s NBC town hall last week was seen by an estimated 6.7 million across the affiliated three networks.

Trump has a long history of fixating on television ratings, dating back to his time as a reality TV host on NBC. Even as president, he has chimed in on the TV ratings for everything from the Oscars to NFL games as evidence of his popularity.

More recently, Trump boasted about Republican National Convention ratings beating the Democratic National Convention by citing a figure that appears to have been sourced from a Fox News report that attributed the higher ratings figure to an unnamed Trump campaign official.

Per Nielsen, the Democratic National Convention drew more TV viewers. As the Associated Press noted in its fact check, “there is no way to truly calculate the total views across platforms, including all online streaming options.”

Just hours before Thursday’s NBC town hall, Trump referred to the network as “fake.”

This story has been updated with Nielsen’s final ratings numbers.