This election cycle’s first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was among the most highly anticipated in all of American history. It drew a massive global audience, with ad buyers predicting a marked 20-50% increase in viewership compared to the 67 million who watched the Obama-Romney debate in 2012.
The evolution and increasing adoption of technology has also played a major role in mediating and engaging viewers with developments in the debate. As Fastly puts it, “Americans aren’t just listening – they’re also taking action as the debate unfolds.” Simple moments from the debate can provoke a massive response online, eliciting tweets, comments, and donations, which can be measured by viewing traffic patterns.
Fastly, which serves tens of thousands of websites, including influential media platforms such as Buzzfeed, Vox Media, Twitter, Wenner Media, and Condé Nast, has been able to glean some key insights into how users reacted to the debate, which sparked record levels of online engagement.
One such event, which significantly influenced traffic patterns, was the airing of Funny Or Die’s “Between Two Ferns” interview with Hillary Clinton. The video segment was retweeted more than 28,000 times and attracted over 30 million views just within the first 24 hours, setting Funny Or Die’s record for highest first-day viewership. Funny Or Die experienced a 1,000% spike in traffic which amounted to double the uptick in requests they saw in 2014, after airing a “Between Two Ferns” interview with Barack Obama.
Fastly also powers the Hillary Clinton campaign website, which allowed it to measure the website’s traffic surges during the debate. When directed to the website during the debate broadcast, traffic notably grew 4,600%. Traffic also tripled when the debate turned to the topic of race as well as when Trump said that Clinton “chose to stay home,” to which she had used the time preparing for the debate and the presidency.
Traffic also skyrocketed by 6,500% when the debate started and maintained relatively high levels even after the debate had ended, with requests staying at 2,000% above normal levels.
Other significant moments that triggered traffic surges include when Hillary Clinton referenced her website’s fact checkers, Trump denied claims that he characterized climate change as a Chinese hoax, and when debate moderator Lester Holt clarified that stop-and-frisk police tactics had been declared illegal by courts.
Overall, traffic to media sites grew by 63% during the debate.