Donald Trump live on one cable news channel. Hillary Clinton live on another. The dueling town halls almost had the feel of a channel surfing debate.
So which one was higher-rated on Thursday?
The 10 p.m. hour of CNN’s Republican town hall, with Trump on stage, more than doubled MSNBC’s Democratic town hall, with Clinton on stage, in the key demographic of viewers ages 25 to 54.
CNN nearly doubled MSNBC among total viewers for the hour, too, according to Nielsen ratings data.
The result was the same throughout prime time, from 8 until 11 p.m. CNN ranked first for the night, Fox News ranked second and MSNBC ranked third.
The ratings averages don’t provide any clues about how many people flipped back and forth between the two competing events.
During the Trump and Clinton hour, CNN had 3.42 million viewers, 989,000 of whom were in that prized demo. Fox News (which had no special programming) had 1.86 million, 446,000 in the demo. MSNBC had 1.66 million, 387,000 in the demo.
The cable news wars heated up this week when CNN and MSNBC scheduled competing events on back to back nights.
MSNBC countered part one of CNN’s GOP town hall by arranging a last-minute town hall with Trump on Wednesday.
The move boosted MSNBC’s typical ratings, but the channel still placed third.
The same thing happened on Thursday. While CNN had part two of its GOP town hall, MSNBC had a Democratic forum with Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
MSNBC also scored a news-making interview with Vice President Joe Biden and showed it at 8 p.m., leading into the 9 p.m. town hall.
The ratings comparisons are complicated because CNN and MSNBC’s town halls started at slightly different times. But for all of the 8 to 11 p.m. prime time, CNN averaged 2.9 million viewers; Fox averaged 2.2 million; and MSNBC averaged 1.5 million.
The results are reason for cheer at CNN, obviously, but almost equally positive for town hall-less Fox News.
Fox might have expected to lose a big chunk of its audience because of the aggressive counter-programming efforts of its rivals.
But the 8 p.m. hour of “The O’Reilly Factor,” with sub host Eric Bolling, still fared well and far surpassed MSNBC’s totals.
As for CNN, part two of the GOP town hall — with Trump, Jeb Bush, and John Kasich — averaged 3.09 million viewers between 8:45 and 11 p.m.
Part one on Wednesday night — with Marco Rubio, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz — averaged 2.31 million.
On a normal night without any big election news, CNN averages fewer than 1 million viewers in prime time.