Is Dr. Phil a Bigger Political Stage for Candidates Than CNN?

The Nielsen figure only captures television viewership, leaving out what may have been millions of additional viewers streaming the debate from their phones or laptops. It also didn’t count YouTube or Twitch creators who streamed the debate and provided live commentary for their audiences either.

But that doesn’t change the fact that last election cycle, CNN hit record viewership during prime time, with nearly 2 million viewers on average in 2020; that number sank to nearly 500,000 this week. Compare that with Trump’s recent appearance on Impaulsive, a podcast hosted by influencer turned professional wrestler Logan Paul: On YouTube, that conversation has received nearly 5 million views, and Trump’s video announcing that interview has over 120 million views on TikTok. Earlier this month, Trump sat for an interview with Dr. Phil that reached more than 5 million viewers on X. (Those are X’s numbers, though, so take them with a grain of salt.)

Even as Biden and Trump have reportedly been sharpening their debating skills over the past few weeks, their teams are putting together strategies to handle any online fallout. For the past week, Trump allies have been preparing their base to be outraged online, criticizing the CNN moderators and daring Biden to take a drug test. After facing a week’s worth of cheapfakes, the Biden campaign is preparing to fact-check their opponent in real time and before any false or misleading information takes off in the less savory corners of the internet.

“Our campaign will have a robust rapid-response operation across platforms,” a Biden campaign official told me on Monday.

CNN is distributing its feed to major media outlets and will be streaming it from its website and YouTube account for free, but the network has strongly warned creators against broadcasting the debate on their own. Since CNN has the exclusive rights to the feed, it can prohibit would-be commentators from using its feeds.

“The CNN Presidential Debate will stream live without a cable login on and on CNN’s YouTube channel and is made available widely through both digital offerings, in addition to the television and Max streaming distribution. It is an exclusive event to CNN and cannot be distributed or manipulated,” Emiy Kuhn, senior vice president for communications at CNN, said in a statement to WIRED on Tuesday.

In years past, streamers like Saagar Enjeti, cohost of the Breaking Points podcast, said streaming his own commentary over the feed wasn’t an issue.

“I’m gonna chill on it. CNN already told Breaking Points to fuck off, so I take that as confirmation they’re out for blood, sadly,” Trihex, a Twitch streamer and political activist, told me over DMs on Wednesday. “It might be less risky the following day, but live react is a nuclear risk at this time.”

“YouTube works hard to balance the rights of copyright holders and the creative pursuits of our community, but we don’t mediate copyright claims or decide who owns the rights to content,” a YouTube spokesperson said in a statement to WIRED on Wednesday.

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