Since Wednesday, millions of people have tuned in via live-streamed videos through Facebook and Twitter's Periscope app to follow a sit-in by U.S. House Democrats protesting congressional inaction on proposed gun control legislation.
The online video feeds became the only way to watch the sit-in after House Speaker Paul Ryan shut down cameras used by C-SPAN, usually the go-to TV network for action in Washington. The cable channel itself kept its broadcast going using footage from lawmakers' live-streamed videos sent from their mobile phones on Facebook and Periscope.
Individuals could also find the videos on social media using the hashtag #NoBillNoBreak. As of 1 p.m. Thursday in New York, Facebook Live videos broadcast from 19 representatives attracted 3 million views, according to Rachael Horwitz, a company spokeswoman.
The huge audience for the event that unfolded via live-stream marked a defining moment for social-media video as a place to watch more than exploding watermelons, pedestrians dodging puddles in Newcastle and Chewbacca Mom's giddy laughter.
While in the past, individuals and journalists have used their personal devices to stream videos from news events -- such as protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and various sporting competitions from golf to football, this was the first time a traditional cable channel took content from these platforms for its primary live broadcast.
"Something interesting is happening with Facebook Live that's bringing more openness to the political process," Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a post on the social network Thursday. "Members of Congress decided to go live on Facebook and share what they were doing directly with citizens."
C-SPAN, which has no control over the U.S. House cameras it usually uses, had to turn to the feeds from the Democratic Congressmen in order to fulfill its mission of informing the public, said Communications Director Howard Mortman. While C-SPAN has no ratings, its broadcast reaches 100 million households in the U.S., he said. The nonprofit organization stuck with the protest after the session ended and the cameras were shut off because "there was no bigger story" to follow, he said.
"We did everything we could to find whatever was available,'' he said.
The lawmakers' videos showed images and viewpoints of the House chamber never before seen, Mr. Mortman said. Still, C-SPAN did switch between a number of feeds from both Periscope and Facebook, seeking out the ones with the best quality, he said, adding that the traditional cameras still had the best images.
The high-profile win for live-streaming could also lead to a potential sales boon for Facebook and Twitter, both of which are expanding into video as a way of wringing more revenue from advertisers eager to reach the billion-plus people who spend time on the sites.
"Events like this can certainly help build awareness and a deeper trajectory," said James Cakmak, an analyst at Monness Crespi Hardt & Co. "It's still early days. They're still figuring out what the appropriate experience is."
-- Bloomberg News