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Streaming the Conventions

Love or hate the mainstream media, they've often been the only way that many political junkies get their fix. With the popularity of political blogs, RSS feeds and—this year in a big way—streaming, the mainstream media seems to be playing catchup to an alternate media distribution lifestyle that all nominees seem to have fully embraced.

This year, with a third-party candidate, Congressman Ron Paul, holding his own convention at the same time the Grand Old Party held theirs, there wasn't a lot of room for the broadcasters to share the limited viewing stage of network television with both Paul and the Republicans.

No problem, according to Paul's constituency, which has a base that includes a significant percentage of webmasters and open-source software advocates. Paul's convention was viewable on all three major platforms—Windows, Macintosh, and Linux. Streaming media allowed Paul's alternative convention, at which about 10,000 convention-goers paid $17.76 each to attend, to be viewed from anywhere in the world. Streamed by several sites, including rallyfortherepublic.tv, the convention and the Ronstock '08 cultural festival taking place in Minnesota at the same time as the Republican convention, this alternate media distribution gave both Paul supports and reporters a chance to monitor both conventions, even if the reporters were firmly planted in booths, press rooms and production trailers at the larger Republican convention.

Besides Ron Paul, the main political parties also used streaming. It's no surprise really, given the interest in these two conventions and the fact that both major parties want to woo the startup and entrepreneur. The Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama, and Governor Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential candidate, both seem to have significant experience with a Blackberry and other technology tools, so streaming as a way to reach technology-savvy constituents is a natural byproduct.

"The excitement and energy of the 2008 Republican National Convention will be documented by 15,000 journalists from around the world," said ShadowTV President & CEO Maria Cino, "making it second only to the Olympics in terms of press coverage."

ShadowTV is a video monitoring service, and it was used by both the Democratic and Republican conventions to track what was being said on different stations and news feeds, searching closed captioning text in news clips and triggering real-time alerts when keywords are mentioned. According to the company, this let both parties, during their conventions, "be able to instantly retrieve footage from more than 250 television stations across the country."

Slashdot noted, though, that unlike Congressman Paul's convention, not everyone could watch the streams of the Democratic and Republican conventions.

"If you browse to the Democratic Convention website and attempt to check out any of their upcoming streams," said one Slashdot poster, "you bump into the following limitation: 'We're sorry, but the Democratic Convention video web site isn't compatible with your operating system and/or browser. Please try again on a computer with the following Compatible operating systems: Windows XP SP2, Windows Vista, or a Mac with Tiger (OS 10.4) or Leopard (OS 10.5)."

The Democratic convention used Silverlight and the Republican convention appears to have been streamed in Flash, though no political affiliation should be derived from these technology choices. For those who did have a compatible system, political junkies seemed not to mind having to download a plug-in or a player.

"I did have to download and install two programs [starlight and a basic video player that the DNC choose]," said one poster on bluemassgroup.com, referring to Silverlight and the Move Networks media player, "but my firewall and tech support vetted them as safe."

Television numbers for viewership of acceptance speeches were staggering (bigger than the Academy Awards or the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremony). According to Neilsen Media Research, an audience of 38.4 million people watched Senator Obama's acceptance speech on the major networks; by contrast, Governor Palin, shown on four fewer networks (BET, TV One, Univision and Telemundo didn't cover Palin's speech), had 37.2 million people viewing.

Nielsen does count C-SPAN's audience,and PBS estimates about 4 million extra viewers on their network for both Obama and Palin.

The battle continues online. As of today's writing, the DemConvention posting on YouTube of Senator Obama's acceptance speech had 115,114 views; Governor Sarah Palin's speech, given five days later, had 143,215 views.

One person I talked to this morning wondered what he'd do with all the free time.

"I just got done watching the conventions," said Frank Weeks, a self-described political junkie and former sportscaster. "Between the conventions and the Olympics, I feel like I've been glued to my computer and television since August 8. I suspect, though, I'll be watching alot more YouTube and live streams in the next eight weeks before the election."

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