Media coverage of the US presidential debates

20 October 2016
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With the US presidential election less than three weeks away we want to look at how media has covered the debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. This election has brought social media to the center of political coverage. The first debate on September 26th this year was the most tweeted debate ever, topping the previous record of 10.3 million set during 2012’s first presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. TV and cable news have delved into online coverage by partnering up with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, complementing their traditional broadcasts.

Traditional News outlets are partnering up with social media

It is obvious that news channels such as ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX and NBC were broadcasting the debates on TV, others streamed it online through various social media platforms. Facebook has partnered with ABC, Twitter ran Bloomberg’s feed and YouTube was showcasing feeds from The Washington Post as well as seven networks. Snapchat is an official partner of the Commission on Presidential Debates and streamed clips of the debates inside its app.

“Twitter is where the 2016 presidential election is happening every single day. Livestreaming the debates with Bloomberg combined with the live commentary and conversation on Twitter will create a one-screen experience at the center of the action unlike any other.” says Anthony Noto, Twitter’s CFO

Despite so many outlets worldwide offering live video debate coverage, 95 percent are expected to have watched the debates on TV. Micah Gelman, director of editorial video for the Washington Post, didn’t expect the debates to be the highest traffic drivers for them. The Post was using the live coverage on Facebook Live and YouTube mostly as a brand building opportunity to get a younger audience to visit its publication. ABC has similar views and used Facebook Live to host a dedicated online only coverage of the debate.


Online media show higher engagement over a longer time

While the second debate on October 9 showed a decline of 20 percent to 63 million TV viewers, debate content on YouTube received 124 million views, a 40 percent increase from the first. 3.2 million tuned into Twitter’s livestream, an increase of 30%, and ABC News’ broadcasting partnership with Facebook Live garnered 7.4 million views. According to YouTube, viewers tuned into its livestream for an average of 25 minutes. Showing that users are increasingly interested watching the debate in shorter video bites. However, those online videos are being viewed for a longer time frame, leading to a longer engagement. People now see the campaign in memes, gifs and YouTube videos edited to make it look like Trump and Clinton are singing a duet.

Analytics of social feeds are becoming a standard

Twitter has not only partnered up with Bloomberg but also informed the audience with post-debate data, about most tweeted topics and most favoured candidates. Google shows extensive insights into the trending topics of last night’s debate. Highlighting most searched topics on a state and country basis and fact-checking statements made by candidates. Fact-checking has come into the center of attention with many untrue statements thrown around by the candidates. The New York Times continuously fact-checked statements by Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton throughout the debate, along with a live analysis by Time’s reporters.

We will continue to see traditional media partner up with social media in the coming weeks covering this most exciting election for the President of the United States of America. Giving us insight in the campaigns and analysis of voters’ issues. With Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton running in this election cycle, it is sure to be a feast for reporters and viewers online and offline.

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