The presidential debates on Twitter are bigger than the NFL on Twitter


369,000 people tuned in on Sunday

More people watched Twitter’s livestreams of the first two presidential debates than the NFL games Twitter has been streaming.

Neither set of numbers are huge by TV standards. But they do give some credence to Twitter’s argument that it can be a live video delivery platform.

Twitter says an average of 369,000 people watched Sunday night’s debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, up from the 344,000 who watched their first debate last month.

Twitter’s peak audience for football has been the 327,000 who tuned in to a Thursday night Patriots – Texans game last month.

All of those numbers are much smaller than the TV audiences for those events. Sunday’s debate drew 66.5 million U.S. viewers, and the first debate attracted 84 million viewers. And the New England-Houston game drew 17.5 million people.

One caveat to Twitter’s livestream numbers is that in the last week the company has begun autoplaying livestreams of its big events for users who access Twitter via desktop browsers, and counting views of more than 3 seconds in its totals. That is: Some of the 369,000 people who were watching the debate at any given time on Sunday were watching it because Twitter started playing the event for them automatically.

That said, the majority of Twitter’s usage happens on mobile, so the autoplay numbers shouldn’t have a huge effect on the totals.

Twitter is also showing off its overall “reach” numbers for the event, which include anyone who saw either the debate or the pre or post-event coverage, streamed via Bloomberg’s TV operations. More than 3.2 million people streamed some portion of Sunday’s event, up 30 percent from the first debate.

But if Twitter wants to play in media’s big leagues, it needs to use the smaller, “average minute” numbers, which are the ones TV advertisers look at.

Still, the debate numbers are nice talking point for Twitter, since it can now argue that it has been able to gather eyeballs for big sports events and debates.

One other feather in their cap: Unlike the NFL games, broadcasts and streams of the debates were widely available, basically anywhere you wanted to watch them. The fact that some people chose to watch them on Twitter is a good thing for Jack Dorsey and company.

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