Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

How Many People Watched Obama’s Inauguration on the Web? A Lot.

Was Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration a big day for Web video? Yes. Was it a record day? No one knows.

Credit NewTeeVee’s Liz Gannes for trying to get her arms around the size of the audience that watched Tuesday’s proceeding on the Web. She was able to tally 70 million views, and notes that U.S. TV outlets totaled about 37.8 million viewers.

So was the Web audience watching Obama twice as big as the TV one? Who knows?

That’s because as impressive as those numbers are, it’s unclear what they actually mean. Gannes herself notes that her data are weighed down with several asterisks.

For one thing, she doesn’t have numbers from sources like the New York Times (NYT), which says its Web site served up a record number of views but won’t actually say how many that means. On the flip side, the video numbers she does have come from throughout the day, while TV numbers only cover 11 a.m. through 2 p.m. EST. Etc.

But the biggest issue here is that it’s impossible to equate a Web video view with a television viewer. If you had to reload your Web browser because the video you were watching crashed or stalled, you generated an extra Web video view. Every time you did that. Same thing applies if you switched to a different site to watch its feed.

So given the well-documented troubles most Web sites had serving up video on Tuesday, it’s entirely possible that each Web user generated more than one video view. Say, a couple on Time Warner’s (TWX), and then a few more at GE’s (GE)

Which means the real question is: How many video views did the average viewer account for?

The Web sites that have reported traffic numbers could clear this up by explaining how many individual IP addresses they served during the inauguration. But for whatever reason, they’re not.

So we’re back to guesswork when it comes to figuring out the size of Tuesday’s Web audience. Ironic, given that the Web is supposed to offer a precision that old media just can’t match when it comes to this stuff. Maybe one day.