This year, the Presidential election - and debates - will rely a great deal on video, and for good reason. An entire segment of voters now use smartphones and tablets as their primary means of connecting with candidates and consuming their messages - and video. Strap in and let’s explore.
2016 has been a year for many historical firsts. The summer is just winding down, but US readers will recall the record medal haul that the US Olympic team had (121) and all readers will likely recall the record speedy medal runs that Usain Bolt made in Rio. These events and hundreds more comprised what was the most streamed Olympics competition in history, where 3.3 billion minutes were delivered to viewers everywhere. None of this was unexpected, but nonetheless still serves as a very valuable guidepost for where video delivery, and consumption continue to head - ubiquity. We are headed there with increasing velocity.
2016 has also been a first on many fronts when it comes to our presidential elections in the US. First and foremost, Hillary Clinton is the first female nominee for President. Regardless of personal politics, historians argue that this is a good thing for the United States. Another first in this election cycle is the notion that both candidates are the most historically disliked. Though not a first, this election cycle will probably be remembered as the first where social media played such a large role in a campaign. Sure, it was around in the 2012 election season, but given the candidate’s propensity to connect with their respective bases via Facebook, Twitter, Periscope and other means, social media was clearly a vital part of the narrative in the 2016 elections. As we move toward the debates (note I didn’t say televised, more on that in a minute), social media and streaming video are playing massive roles in how viewers, and voters, consume this content.
The election won’t be televised, it will be streamed
I’m kidding of course, but for millions of millennials, this subheading isn’t that inaccurate. Not that long ago, we would flock to our televisions for a glimpse at the Presidential debates for a better understanding of the candidates or also a clever quip, strong rhetoric or a verbal skirmish. In 1960 in the first Presidential debate, 70 million Americans watched as candidates John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon explored how to best use the new television medium to deliver their message to voters. Historians say that it was Kennedy who learned to speak through the camera to the viewer, where Nixon failed to connect using this new vital communication medium. In 1980 (ironically), 80 million people watched President Jimmy Carter and challenger Ronald Reagan duke it out on television, chuckling at Reagan’s zinger on age. In the years since, our nation has engaged with the live televised debates but in 2016 we are perched on the precipice of new viewing experiences. We have generations of viewers who have never watched a televised debate (at least not that they can remember, although they may have in the past with Mom & Dad), or whose primary method of connecting with the candidates is through Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and the like via the device in their hand. These are the same viewers that many brands now seek to reach device driven audiences with new viewing experiences - simply look to the NFL Thursday Night live on Twitter as the latest shining example. We even had a Brightcove customer in Hong Kong who streamed the event live.
Grading the debate
By and large, every video offering I sampled on Monday night looked great. This is testament to streaming video’s rapid rise and how quality of video and experience has become table stakes, especially with massive events like the Presidential Debates.
It seems everywhere I looked Monday, there was no shortage of broadcast brands offering a live look on stage at Hofstra University. From Facebook to Twitter, CNN to Fox News and all the three letter familiar broadcasters - CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC, every experience was outstanding. Even one of our Brightcove customers in Asia had a live feed of this historic event.
Video performance was fairly consistent across the board, too - although each brand has their own perspective on what the viewing experience should be like. For example, the broadcast outlets were consistent in the notion that the video is the star and should be front and center. I sampled each network’s offering on smartphone, tablet, and desktop. Startup times were all well under five seconds and some were less than two seconds. Video quality was good and consistent across all brands too - which makes sense considering that during the debate itself, all networks are working with the same feed. All in all, I was impressed with the offerings of all the networks and their streams were solid.
On the social side of things, the world view was considerably different. To Facebook and Twitter, the video isn’t the star of the show, but perhaps another element alongside comments, news and other social seasonings. In a word, I found the Twitter and Facebook experiences to be distracting. For my viewing tastes, I am happy to look at another browser tab or look at another device for social elements while I am watching video. But to each his own. Still, both social giants have great looking video and the experience was interruption free and without issue.
In terms of overall dialog and conversation, my informal poll showed Twitter ruling the evening and was much more active than Facebook.
A future that isn’t so Jetson-like after all
With apologies to George Jetson and family, we are moving to a world where we can do almost anything with devices in our pockets and hands. These devices are no longer thought of as futuristic - they’re part of how we create and consume information every minute of every day. Video is becoming more ubiquitous on our phones and tablets, and this debate will likely serve as another indicator that massive audiences will turn to their devices for events where there is mass appeal. The early chatter says that Monday’s debate was watched by more than 84 million viewers. It may take a few days, but I’m willing to bet that the aggregate video streaming traffic numbers will be comparable with the past few Super Bowls and World Cups.
This all forges a future where we’ll do more with these incredibly powerful devices in our hands. We’ll move from watching debates in real time to perhaps even securely casting our votes and watching election night returns on them too. So vote & view responsibly.