It turns out all the breathless speculation was correct. Down to its core, the 2012 presidential campaign was indeed the digital election.
While most media types anticipated a record-setting night for digital news outlets, there was some quiet speculation among digital executives that the Romney/Obama contest might not be able to capture the magic of Obama's historic 2008 election night. That factor, along with an 18-month campaign season and a stagnant economy, led to a concern that audience fatigue could lead to lower online traffic compared to four years ago.
However, across the board, cable news networks, legacy media outlets and digital publishers shattered records across the board online thanks in part to the rapid adoption of two-screen TV viewing.
For example, CNN reported a four-year traffic record last Tuesday evening, recording over 203 million pageviews and 23 million unique visitors in a single day. Among the popular pages were the CNN digital election center, home to the site's popular interactive, real-time exit polls and electoral maps.
For CNN, the traffic bump was also no doubt buoyed by the network's dominant Twitter presence. At 24,000 mentions, CNN was cited more than any other news network. And John King, thanks to his deft electoral map maneuvering, became a one-man Twitter trend as the night rolled on, even picking up some sponsored ad buys from a third party.
While it may not have been a good night for Mitt Romney, FoxNews.com had its best night ever, locking in 17.6 million unique visitors and 179 million plus pageviews on Tuesday, up 120 percent from the 2008 election. "We were prepared for a traffic increase, but it was surprising. The numbers were higher than expected," said Jeff Misenti, vp and gm of Fox News Digital. According to Misenti, between 8 p.m. until well past midnight, FoxNews.com's chartbeat consistently recorded around 1.2 million concurrent users on the site.
Misenti added that FoxNews.com's interactive election maps drew the biggest audience throughout the evening for the site. "You saw the desire for viewers to interact and follow races closely at home with their second screens," he said.
At Yahoo, the portal is crowing about its partnership with ABC News (launched about a year ago). While Yahoo News has yet to report total unique user or traffic data for Election Night, the two companies combined to deliver close to 10 million streams across ABCNews.com, Yahoo’s election hub, YouTube and both sites' mobile offshoots. No word on how many of those streams may or may not have featured an inebriated Diane Sawyer (the Web content included a mix of repurposed ABC News content and digital originals).
In fact, ABC News' own mobile products delivered 450,000 live video streams on their own. Overall, Election Night was by far the most trafficked night in the history of the short marriage of ABC News and Yahoo.
And while the traditional digital news giants broke records, Election Day is also a time when millions of Americans became amateur swing-state poll dissectors. Thus, the hardest of hard-core political sites also enjoyed banner nights.
For example, according to Politico’s internal data, the D.C.-junkie outlet attracted 9.4 million unique visitors who generated 54 million pageviews, resulting in the biggest day in the site’s history.
Between 11 p.m. and midnight, Politico delivered over 8 million pageviews; the site generated 5.5 million pageviews on Election Day in 2010 (a nonpresidential year, of course). And Politico Live, the site’s foray into original video, was streamed 108,000 times (the show also aired on C-SPAN).
According to comScore, Politico pulled in 7.9 million unique visitors, an increase of 75 percent year over year.
Meanwhile, RealClearPolitics, known for its obsessive poll crunching, attracted 3.5 million uniques on Election Day, generating 18.5 million pageviews, according to internal data. To put that in perspective, in 2008 the site’s audience just exceeded 2 million uniques.
As the polls fluctuated, tightened and loosened over the last few weeks of the 2012 election, the overall audience for RealClearPolitics swelled. From Oct. 1 until Nov. 6, the site nabbed 22 million unique users.
Strangely, NBC News, which enjoyed the largest audience on TV last Tuesday, declined to provide any data regarding its Web audience. It's possible that NBCNews.com has suffered a traffic drop-off since NBC and Microsoft ended their MSNBC.com partnership.