Donald Trump has lost his latest TV ratings war with Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who amassed around 600,000 more viewers than the US president during their competing town halls earlier this week.
The lagging ratings will come as a blow to Mr Trump, who has long obsessed over his own popularity and has regularly weaponised the supposedly poor TV ratings of other media figures to mock them on social media.
In total, Mr Trump reached 13.5 million people across three networks – NBC, CNBC, and MSNBC – between 8pm and 9pm on Thursday, comfortably less than Mr Biden’s 14.1 million on ABC at the same time, according to data firm Nielsen.
ABC officials privately expressed surprise at the victory, according to CNN, following widely held expectations in the TV world Mr Trump’s more free-wheeling and confrontational approach would attract a larger audience.
“Turns out more people last night were interested in watching a leader with a clear plan to get this pandemic under control and Americans back to work, than the same combative, chaotic liar whose incompetence got us into this mess — regardless of how many channels he was on," tweeted the Biden campaign’s press secretary TJ Ducklo.
Nielsen’s TV ratings only measure viewership on TV sets and do not include live streams to phones, laptops and other devices. Both ABC and NBC self-reported healthy online viewership.
Mr Trump has yet to comment on his defeat, but after Mr Biden’s convention speech earlier this year received a larger TV audience that Mr Trump’s own Republican address, the US president complained that such “Online Streaming Numbers” were not included.
How does the Fake News not include Online Streaming Numbers where Republicans blow the Dem Numbers away?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 29, 2020
Thursday evening was initially penned in as the date of the second presidential debate, but it was cancelled by the independent commission after Mr Trump refused to conduct it virtually following his positive test for coronavirus.
Mr Biden subsequently decided to do a town hall on ABC instead, before NBC, in a much-criticised move, agreed to let Mr Trump have his own event at the same time.
While Mr Biden outperformed his Republican rival in viewing figures, Mr Trump made global headlines for a rambling performance in which he appeared to defend the baseless conspiracy theory QAnon and dodged questions about whether he received a Covid-19 test on the day of the first presidential debate.