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How We Watched the Inauguration

Obama's Swearing in by Stream, by Air, by Tweet

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- By the time final numbers are crunched tomorrow morning, President Barack Obama's inauguration likely will have been watched by more people and on more platforms than virtually any other televised event in U.S. history -- including the Super Bowl. This year's biggest winner: the web, with cable news, social networks and even sports leagues capturing a record share of viewers tuning in and live-blogging online throughout the afternoon.

Barack Obama being sworn in as the 44th president of the U.S.
Barack Obama being sworn in as the 44th president of the U.S. Credit: AP
The early winners in the battle for inauguration-media-coverage supremacy were CNN and Facebook, which teamed up for a unique live-streaming event that integrated CNN.com's video player with Facebook status updates, so users could update their statuses with up-to-the-second commentary.

According to early data, as of 3:30 p.m. on Inauguration Day, CNN.com had generated more than 136 million page views, while CNN.com Live had served more than 21.3 million live video streams globally since 6 a.m., easily surpassing its previous record of 5.3 million live streams on Election Night, according to Omniture SiteCatalyst. Additionally, CNN.com Live internal estimates indicated that it had served more than 1.3 million concurrent live streams during its peak, which occurred immediately before Mr. Obama's inaugural address.

Media analyst Rich Greenfield of Pali Equity Research called it a "watershed event" in a client note.

The early winners in the battle for inauguration-media-coverage supremacy were CNN and Facebook.
The early winners in the battle for inauguration-media-coverage supremacy were CNN and Facebook.
'The power of the internet'
He continued, "Live TV shifted from a passive to a social/interactive experience and underscored the power of the internet to deliver video programming to a massive number of users simultaneously." He warned that long term, the numbers and some of the comments from users should cause traditional video providers -- broadcasters and cable systems -- to re-evaluate how they operate in a world where content is available on the web.

If CNN and Facebook were the biggest winners in terms of streams served, Starbucks was arguably the biggest winner on the marketing side, as its new video ad aired on CNN.com Live directly after President Obama left the stage. The ad, created by Omnicom Group's BBDO, New York, was a community-outreach "grass-roots initiative" that offered pledge cards and free cups of coffee to consumers who promised to do five hours of community service during 2009 at their local Starbucks between Jan. 21-25.

"People come together at Starbucks. This was one of those rare moments in time when everyone was focused on one thing," said Chris Bruzzo, VP-digital strategy and content, Starbucks Coffee Co. "Experiencing the inauguration in a community hub, like a neighborhood Starbucks, was something that felt natural to us as an extension of how our customers think about their Starbucks store. We see this week as a shift in thinking toward community and service in this country, which is less a political event and much more a human event, and we want to support it."

Others looking to benefit
Another marketer looking to benefit from Obama mania is Audi, the German automaker, which will sponsor the evening broadcasts' recap of the swearing in of Mr. Obama on ABC, CBS, NBC; the automaker also ran ads during numerous streamed broadcasts of the event online.

MSNBC's Inauguration Explorer
MSNBC's Inauguration Explorer
Election Night's No. 2 most-trafficked site, MSNBC.com, was on track to retain its runner-up status on Inauguration Day, serving over 14 million total video streams by 1 p.m., according to internal data. Final figures on unique visitors and total video streams for all sites are expected to be available tomorrow from ComScore and Nielsen.

The inauguration was available from multiple sources and on multiple platforms. MobiTV offered live coverage from ABC News, CNBC, C-Span, Fox News and MSNBC on its mobile services. On the web, the inauguration aired on sites as diverse as Major League Baseball's mlb.com and MySpace, which streamed the inauguration on its MySpace Impact website. MLB said tens of thousands of people watched the inauguration on its site.

Of course, Mr. Obama's Election Night acceptance speech and the vice-presidential debate both aired live in the evening, which presumably limited the appeal of live online streaming over live TV.

Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, said the service saw five times the normal tweets per second during the swearing-in ceremony. Twitter published a chart of activity on its blog. "Overall, Twitter sailed smoothly through the inauguration, but at the peak, some folks did experience a two- to five-minute delay receiving updates," Mr. Stone said in the post.

Not without glitches
The CNN-Facebook experience was not without its glitches. Several people were shut out or placed in a "virtual line" once the site was full, and a few had problems with the site freezing or problems downloading the Flash plug-in that was required to watch.

Erin Swartz, a marketing exec watching from Minneapolis, tried CNN/Facebook but had trouble with the plug-in. She then switched to C-SPAN before heading back to CNN.com nine minutes later when the sound went quiet. But by then, a "line" had formed to watch on CNN.com. The local CBS affiliate and the Yahoo/ABC News feed wouldn't properly load either. Her final solution: Commandeer a conference room to watch on TV.

"To quote Donald Rumsfeld," she said, "democracy is hard work."

CNN and Starbucks aren't the only ones netting props for their integrations with Facebook. The New York Times is attempting its own promotional Facebook campaign, asking users, "How will you remember today?" and offering a virtual gift, a Barack Obama stamp designed by Christoph Niemann.

Early success
Other online broadcasters reported early success and record traffic. Hulu streamed live coverage of Fox News. The site wouldn't report specific streaming numbers, but a spokesman said today's inauguration "set a new record for us in terms of live streams, ahead of our previous events, which included the presidential debates, the acceptance speech in Grant Park and the Sarah Palin/Joe Biden debate."

However, Fox is likely to gain a significant increase in new viewers thanks to its syndication on Hulu, which could boost its audience by as many as several million unique visitors. It attracted just more than 5 million to FoxNews.com on Election Night vs. the 10 million to 15 million who watched CNN.com and MSNBC.com.

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Contributing: Ira Teinowitz
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