"I don't have any experience in running up a $4 trillion debt. I don't have any experience in gridlock government, where nobody takes responsibility for anything and everybody blames everybody else." — Ross Perot at the 1992 presidential debate
Some of you reading this will remember the 1992 presidential debates with Bill Clinton, Ross Perot, and George H.W. Bush. Many thought Perot was a bit kooky with all of his charts and some of his one-liners. Oh, how Mr. Perot makes the current presidential cycle look tame. And that is about as close as I will get to making this month’s column a political missive. Instead, let’s talk about TV audiences, Sunday Night Football and Twitter.
A year ago, if I had predicted that the presidential debate would have a near Super Bowl-sized viewing audience, close to Super Bowl 50, many, if not all of you, would have laughed and made what would have seemed like a sure bet. In fact, according to Nielsen, the first presidential debate brought in 84 million viewers across 13 of the TV networks that carried it live. And that 84 million doesn’t include people who watched via numerous live streams online or at bars and restaurants. This means the actual total audience was even higher. Did I mention this was a presidential debate? For perspective, the last presidential debate between Obama and Romney in 2012 averaged 67 million viewers.
But what is amazing to me is that Twitter reported their live streams of the first two presidential debates had more viewers than the NFL games.
As many readers may know, Twitter recently began streaming select NFL games, starting with Thursday Night Football. During their first event (N.Y. Jets vs. Buffalo), Twitter’s live streams reached 2.1 million people. Football fans enjoy “smack talking” during games. Twitter knows tweets spike during games, so matching that insight with live-streaming NFL games seems a spot-on way to drive engagement on their platform. And Twitter could certainly use some higher engagement numbers. The first NFL game certainly was proof for their streaming experiment. I’m interested in seeing how Twitter’s live-streaming numbers continue during the rest of the NFL season. I would love to see them prove out this concept for the long haul and see it move into other live-events, such as the hockey, tennis, and award shows.
Twitter’s NFL live streams and now the presidential debates give them the proof they need to support their belief that Twitter can be a live-video delivery platform. While many in the industry may think the concept is a stretch and just another desperate advertising solution concept for Twitter’s weak monetization efforts, I have long believed they are the perfect platform to surround great content for passionate consumers during live events.
Are Twitter’s NFL streaming numbers huge by traditional TV standards? No. But we are still very early in their grand live-streaming experiment. Let's give it some time and see how things go and where they innovate and iterate on the service. At a minimum, they have proved their live-streaming point.
The live-steam presidential debate numbers also point out that consumers have a thirst for content they are passionate about on non-traditional platforms. If Twitter can continue to identify passion-based content (e.g., music, sports, politics), I believe the audience will show up and engage. As marketers, we all know what happens when the audience shows up — advertising solutions follow. So, here is another chance for passion-based marketers (QSR, auto, etc.) to get in and test a still unproven area and get some great learning.