Entering a New Era of Online and Obama

January 21st, 2009

Yesterday our nation experienced history in the making, as our first African American President was sworn into office.  And quite fittingly, in this spirit of ground-breaking moments, Americans viewed the inauguration in the same revolutionary way.


Millions upon millions of office workers across the country helped set records for Internet traffic as they watched Obama’s inauguration online, through live streaming video across their computers.  Essentially every major news outlet offered live feeds on their respective sites, and most of the major news portals including,,, AOL News, The New York Times,,,,, all streamed the festivities with embedded video right on their home page, for the very first time.


In fact, by all accounts, the Obama inauguration was the most-watched live event in the history of the Web.  And so far, the numbers speak for themselves.  Prior to inauguration day, the head of CNN’s Web operation, KC Estenson, had predicted record breaking numbers for Web viewership, due in large part to the fact that it would occur during the day when many people were at work and closer to a computer than to a television.


Estenson sure was right. In fact, CNN said it provided more than 21.3 million video streams over a nine-hour span up to midafternoon, far surpassing the 5.3 million streams it provided during of all of Election Day. At its peak, fed 1.3 million live streams simultaneously . And according to Akamai Technologies Inc., which delivers Internet video for many Web sites, the inauguration set a record for them, with 7.7 million people watching video streams at the same time.


Seems perfect right? All us office workers across the world could view the inauguration with the click of a mouse, without even getting up from our desks?  Well, not exactly. While the numbers certainly are impressive, many web viewers found themselves unable to access the videos, staring at frozen images, and experiencing a barrage of interruptions and long pauses.

According to Bill Woodcock, the research director at the Packet Clearing House, a nonprofit organization that analyzes online traffic, the viewing issues may have been more a result of the limited Internet capacity coming to offices and houses, rather than a lack of overall bandwidth from the media companies. 


Whatever the reason, the viewing issues highlighted one benefit that is still held by good old-fashioned television: its viewers aren’t forced to compete with one another for the right to watch a particular channel.


This viewing issue seems to provide a metaphor for a task that Obama and all Presidents’ must take on–balancing the need and desire for change and evolution while maintaining core competencies that keep us going.  As we prepare for the next four years and soak in the now, it’s interesting to look back to March 4, 1901, when a lone cameraman was dispatched to capture the swearing in of William McKinley.

Oh how far we have come.  Now we all look to Obama to see how far we can go.

Posted Under: Digital & Social Media
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