Social media is quickly becoming a competitive delivery alternative to cable and broadcast for breaking news video viewers. Case in point: The Trump Tower climber, who made his quixotic ascent in New York City on August 10th. According to an entry on a Facebook corporate site, FB Media, more than 14 million unique viewers watched Facebook Live feeds of the climb from more than 80 live sources. (Facebook counted a unique user as someone who watched at least one minute from any of the feeds.)
The stunt (#TrumpClimber and #TrumpTowerClimber became leading hashtags) became international fare: Facebook reports countries with high tune-in rates included the UK, Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Italy, Ireland, Australia and Germany. Major media outlets like ABC, CNN, Univision and BuzzFeed put up feeds on Facebook Live. But they were on a level playing field with everyday users of the service – as in anyone on the ground who was shooting the climber on a phone and broadcasting live.
So, are the participating networks happy about this new method of distribution? CNN drew almost five million of those original 14 million views. From the Facebook release:
CNN’s Facebook Live feed of the climber was a tremendous success,” said CNN’s Head of Social News, Samantha Barry. “Our customized experience for the Facebook platform provided our audience with a raw, unnarrated feed, and the opportunity to interact with the community around the story. The record-breaking number of users engaged with one another in the comments section, and CNN joined in to provide the context and reporting users were looking for.
Note that CNN did not put up its on-air product. It used Facebook Live as a separate channel, simply running the live video without commentary. Part of the reason to do that is to avoid complaints from cable distributors. But doing so also provided a different experience – one that let the audience become the commentators.
The event went viral as it unfolded, with people Tweeting about it and linking to the live feeds. I watched the Periscope feed hosted by user Gerald Iorio which was entertaining because it was “narrated” by regular folks – just a group of friends watching from their own office. At the time of the climb, they celebrated when they hit their 200,000th user.
Services like Facebook Live and Periscope are changing the definition of “viral video,” which used to solely mean something pre-recorded and shared. The Periscope video has added a half-million views since the climb. CNN’s feed has another three million views. Viral video can be live and then continue on.
19 year-old Stephen Rogata scaled 21 stories of the building before officers pulled him in through an opening they created by removing one of the window panes. He told police he wanted to meet with Donald Trump. He faces a number of charges, including criminal trespassing and is out on $10,000 bail.