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Major public events highlighting role of Twitter

Media Corner

Clare Forrester

Wednesday, September 12, 2012    

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Television coverage of the conventions of the two political parties in the United States led to some pretty amazing claims by some of the networks.

Based on some of the headlines, it was easy to arrive at misleading conclusions about audience response. In one case, I read where Fox News Channel, which unabashedly favours the Republicans, claimed that their coverage of the widely criticised Clint Eastwood "empty-chair" debate was the second most-watched TV programme. That left me wondering about the data published on global television audiences for the Olympic Games which we were told was watched live by some two billion viewers worldwide, even though NBC showed only delayed broadcasts of the highlights. Of course, there were some follow-up stories that clarified that earlier report about the "empty-chair debate" by adding that this figure represented TV audiences for that week. Also, one has to keep in mind constantly that stories about media audiences emanating in the United States relate to US audiences only.

But even then, the figures published call for deeper analysis. Given the political lines drawn between cable networks like Fox and MSNBC, each of which favours one or the other party. Most Republican viewers very likely followed the FNC coverage while MSNBC would be the choice of Democrats during their respective conventions. Hence, it came as no real surprise when MSNBC, which had a superior panel of analysts, stole the march on Fox and the other cable channels for the first time, in terms of total cable viewership of the first day of the Democratic Convention. When reported, however, one would have thought that MSNBC had overtaken their rival in a more significant way.

What was surprising was that MSNBC pulled off a rare feat in toppling both their main rivals CNN and Fox News in terms of the total number of viewers it captured on Day 1 of the DNC. What was perhaps more interesting about those conventions is the increasing role of Twitter in such public events, suggesting that public conversations may actually be migrating from traditional media to the web.

This deduction was underscored during the conventions that proved to be a greater hit online and on social networks. Data on tweets are now used as strong indications of audience response. On the day after Eastwood conducted his rambling monologue with an empty chair intended to be Obama's, the president's campaign tweeted a photo showing the president seated in the Cabinet room with a caption that read, "This seat's taken." It was the most re-tweeted item of the GOP gathering.

There is little doubt that Twitter has become an influential media force globally in a comparatively short space of time. In 2008, the two US political conventions together drew just 365,000 tweets. This year's Republican convention alone drew five million tweets and this was topped by every keynote speaker on the Democrats' platform. For Republican challenger Mitt Romney's speech last week, 30.3 million people watched on television. On social media, however, the number of tweets about the Democratic convention blew away figures from the Republicans. This may not have surprised many in the US and elsewhere. The Obama campaign has always made extensive use of social media to reach young voters. Media scholar Robert Thompson of Syracuse University said the president's address was split up into seven-minute sections that made it ideal for web distribution.

Adam Sharp, Twitter's director of government and news, said people are flocking to Twitter and other online avenues for the conventions because it allows them to consume news where they are.

"You are no longer tethered to that screen in your living room or anywhere else - you can actively participate in these events while you're in line at the supermarket or waiting for the bus. It's incredibly transforming and freeing," Sharp said.

With the growing presence of smart phones and other androids in the market place, this trend is likely to increase with far-reaching implications for media coverage. These days the number of comments tweeted during staged events has become a strong endorsement of success. Old fogies like me who just never caught on to this form of online media conversations may be missing out on a new way of getting our views across, albeit in soundbites.

Usain Bolt's marketability most likely increased in response to the announcement that he had set "a new Olympic Games conversation record with over 80,000 tweets per minute for his 200m victory." That aside, Yahoo Sports reported an online conversation during the men's 100 metres involving 100,000 plus readers who chatted throughout the 10 seconds of the race. All of this suggests that the media landscape is changing faster than envisaged a few short years ago, and mainstream media as well as marketers and event planners will need to keep up with the flow.

Memorable comment by Rev Al

I am yet to learn whether a comment made by the very popular MSNBC host Reverend Al Sharpton, following the Democratic Party convention, attracted any tweets. He clearly was at his loquacious best in a comment on the speech by former US President Bill Clinton: "One of the most memorable aspects of the speech besides being great was that it will be remembered."

Reggae Boyz vs USA

Although I did not watch the Jamaica vs USA football game live, I'm not sure how Andre Lowe could claim in his story published in the Sunday Gleaner that Jamaica's midfielder Rodoplh Austin "had US goalkeeper Tim Howard in misery for the entire 90 minutes with a barrage of long-range shots". This must have been a truly remarkable feat given that, from most other accounts, the Jamaican players did not take one clear shot at goal for the entire duration of the match besides the free kicks awarded.

Manning Cup coverage

Then if that report didn't raise enough questions, another story also published in the Sunday Gleaner, written by Paul Clarke about the drawn football game between St George's College (STGC) and Hydel in the Manning Cup opener at the Catherine Hall Complex, should have given readers pause. While it may be that STGC dominated play, from what was televised, a huge injustice was done to Hydel which rightly deserved the best of a 2:1 score line when in the 69th minute, the STGC goalkeeper, in attempting a save, carried the ball across the line. How both the referee and his assistant could not see that a goal was scored is beyond me, especially given that one or both officials should have had their eyes peeled on the ball. In its only reference to this major blunder, the story seemed to give the refs an excuse by stating that the "STGC goalkeeper appeared to have carried the ball across the line as he made a save." To my mind, the blunder should have been the story peg, rather than emphasising that the Hydel team "spent almost the entire second half on the back foot as STGC pressured them with wave after wave of attacks." Isn't this what our teams usually do whenever they take the lead, especially against a so-called stronger team?

Maybe it's just as well that our sports fans have not fully caught on to tweeting as yet. But that type of response will come sooner rather than later.

antoye@gmail.com

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