A social TV preview ahead of tonight’s big debate

By Cory Bergman 

As you might imagine, the first presidential debate between Obama and Romney will offer unprecedented opportunities for viewers to engage in real time.   For starters,  Twitter has launched an event page to curate the best tweets, and YouTube and Xbox will stream the debate live.  Media companies are live-blogging and live-tweeting, and second screen apps will encourage viewers to react in real time.   Here’s a breakdown of some of the more interesting social TV aspects of tonight’s big event…

– Twitter continues its “bring you closer” approach to curating live events, positioning the social network as a complement to live TV coverage.  “Whether you’re watching at home or on the go, you can see how the rest of the country is reacting on Twitter,” a blog post explains, emphasizing that #debates is the official hashtag (which brings up the event page).   Just like the conventions, Twitter has a team on the ground in Denver, and they’ll be tweeting interesting data points on @gov through the night.

– Facebook is streaming live interactive interviews from Denver on its US Politics app leading up to the debate.  Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Michael Bennet are among those on the guest list, and users can hit the “Talk to Us” button to pitch a question.

– In a first for YouTube (above), the video site will be streaming the debate live, thanks to a partnership with ABC News.  The debate stream will appear both on YouTube’s Elections Hub and ABC News’ YouTube channel, and YouTube said it will offer the full debate and highlights for replay soon after the debate goes off the air.

– Over on Xbox, Microsoft will stream the debate in partnership with NBC News, but with an interactive twist.  Like the conventions, viewers will be able to participate in live polling that appears across the bottom of the screen.  Xbox viewers can also submit poll questions ahead of time using the #XboxPoll hashtag.

– Freshly launched in the US, Zeebox will participate in its first big TV event in the states.”Within the app, users will have a curated view of real-time social media reaction along with the ability to share images and quotes from the debate as it happens,” explains editorial partner NBC News, which also plans to use Mass Relevance-powered tweets during on-air analysis.

IntoNow has rolled out a new version of its second screen app in time for the debate.  Viewers will be able to grab and share images from the debate (above), play the “who will win” voting game to predict the outcome of the election, rate campaign commercials using the “trustometer,” and “fact check statements made during the debates.”

– CNN is letting users “play TV producer” by enabling live video sharing from its app and web experiences. “Viewers will be able to edit the debate feed as it happens and share short video clips directly from their browser to their friends via Facebook and Twitter.

– KUSA in Denver is encouraging its viewers to use ConnecTV as a debate companion.  The app will feature a live chat with journalist Jim Moret during the debate in addition to its community features.  By the way, KUSA says local media will be using the #DebateDenver hashtag.

– WJLA has teamed up with a company called React Labs to offer a web-based live polling experience.  “After answering a few short questions, users will have the chance to agree and disagree with the candidates in real time, as well as identifying points where Obama and Romney are pushing the party line or evading questions,” WJLA explains.   The experience is optimized for mobile devices.

– As we reported earlier, the social TV app Peel is also offering a live feedback experience.

– In partnership with the Guardian, Tumblr will “live GIF” the debate as a “light alternative.”  That’s right, “four GIF-making all-stars” will be creating and sharing animated images (here) from the debate while it’s on the air.  “We’ve never pulled together GIF makers in the same room for a live event before,” explains Tumblr Editorial Director Christopher Price.

That’s not an exhaustive list by any means (please add more in comments), and it’s enough for Columbia Journalism Review to suggest that people turn off Twitter and “as much as humanly possible, look up from your computers and actually watch what is happening.”  I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a very one-dimensional way to watch a live debate.