Streaming Is Changing The Way We Watch Debates

YouTube boasted 134 million viewers (regardless of an apparently disastrous live chat section)

Photo Illustration: R. A. Di Ieso
Oct 12, 2016 at 5:35 PM ET

We’ve come quite a ways since Americans gathered around in the living room to watch the first ever televised presidential debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy nearly 60 years ago. But it’s not just the subject matter or level of discourse that’s changed — turns out there’s been another monumental shift in the way we watch our debates. YouTube is starting to beat out traditional television when it comes to viewers.

According to Wired, 63 million people chose to watch the debate on live TV while YouTube reports that over 124 million people went online to watch Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton duke it out. Of course, directly comparing the two is tricky, since YouTube’s stats include not only the live coverage, but also including the related content since original air from Sunday to Tuesday. It does, however, indicate a cultural shift taking place: The numbers reflect a sharp increase of YouTube viewers for the first debate (88 million) and the last election cycle, with the total number of watched hours for this debate exceeding the figures collected at the second 2012 debate six times over.

As some Twitter users pointed out, there were certain things that watching the fray unfold online afforded that the traditional method did not. Essentially, the good (like heightened convenience for on-the-go or when a television is shared), the bad (buffering and other technical difficulties), and the ugly (naturally, the comments section).

Additionally, streaming on these platforms allowed for increased international viewership. According to YouTube, the top countries to watch following the U.S. were Canada, Mexico, Australia, Great Britain, and Vietnam.

While the convenience of online debate-viewing was certainly impactful, YouTube also found that the average viewer only spent about 25 minutes watching the 90-minute event.

More See How The Candidates Really Responded To Divisive Debate

This is the second presidential election year for which YouTube has streamed debates live, but Facebook and Twitter are playing an unprecedented role in this political smackdown from hell. To note: Trump used Facebook Live to hold an impromptu press conference just before the debate, and debate co-moderator Anderson Cooper brought up the candidate’s questionable Twitter usage on the national stage.

Another interesting addition that social media platforms’ involvement in the election has led to is the informing of millennials, 74 percent of whom told Pew Research it was the place they got their election news. So for those of you still pretending that you’re tuning out the debates because you’re among the hip cord cutters out there, you should probably come up with a better excuse. Or just suck it up and absorb the hard-to-watch duels that this American institution has turned into.