Rory Cellan-Jones

Web video's Obama moment

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 7 Nov 08, 13:46 GMT

It was the coronation of the Queen in 1953 that saw television enter many British homes for the first time, the moon landing in 1969 inspired millions to go out and buy a colour TV, and it may have been the 2006 World Cup that persuaded lots of us that we needed to start thinking about flatscreen and HD. But did Barack Obama's acceptance speech on US election night mark the moment that web video came of age?

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While millions watched the speech live in the US and some stayed up to catch it in the UK, a huge and growing audience has used the web, either to stream it live, or to catch up afterwards.

One internet service provider, PlusNet, claims that online TV viewing in Britain soared threefold in the small hours of Wednesday morning as viewers tuned in to watch Obama's triumph. It seems a lot of people were watching via their computer rather than going downstairs to turn on the television. "We saw two different types of behaviour," says Neil Armstrong of PlusNet. "People staying up late to catch the coverage online, and then from 0730, people logging on at home or at work to watch what they had missed."

And it's the way the web allows you to catch up with video you missed live or failed to record which has really come up trumps. The Obama speech is attracting millions of views on YouTube, where it's available in various forms - put there by broadcasters, and by viewers who've taped it.

Many people tell me they viewed it on Barack Obama's site, where a YouTube video is embedded. But the speech has also driven a lot of traffic to mainstream media sites - from the New York Times, to the Guardian, from the Daily Telegraph, to the BBC.

My colleagues tell me that on Wednesday 1.7 million people viewed the Obama speech on the BBC website, and another 230,000 watched on Thursday. So an event that attracted a pretty small audience on broadcast television - although over half a million were tuned in to the BBC's live election programme at 0500 - has already garnered an audience of about two million on the web. By comparison the biggest number of viewers for any clip in one day during October was 390,000 - for "Monkeys work in Japanese restaurant".

Now the Obama speech, with 2.4 million YouTube views in a couple of days, has got some way to go before it breaks web video records - an Avril Lavigne video and the Evolution of Dance have both had more than a hundred million views. But it looks to me as though a 17-minute speech in Chicago will be seen in retrospect as the event that made millions realise that the internet could let them replay history whenever they wanted.


  • Comment number 1.

    Rory, I have to disagree.
    Everyone knows the internet video came of age with Gary Brolsma, the numa numa guy...

  • Comment number 2.

    Or Star Wars Kid.

  • Comment number 3.

    "the moon landing in 1969 inspired millions to go out and buy a colour TV"

    'Fraid not.

    Total colour TV sets by the end of 1969 were 200,00.

    I would have hoped a professional journalist claiming some expertise in economics would have refrained from making such a stupid claim.

    The real cost of a CTV would remain beyond the reach of 'millions' for many years.

    'Churnalism' rather than research??

  • Comment number 4.

    Bluecore is absolutely correct, the moon landing did nothing to inspire people to go out and buy a colour set.

    The fact that almost all the coverage (including the all-important transmissions from the moon itself) was in black & white would have made such an "inspiration" unlikely anyway.

    I would have expected a BBC technology blogger to have *some* knowledge of the history of BBC technology.

  • Comment number 5.

    Yes, it's true, Apollo11 and 12 carried only black and white cameras, certainly for the moon surface anyway.

    Apollo 14 in 1971 was probably the first colour moon coverage, but even after the drama of 13, interest in the landings was waning by then so that would probably not inspire 'millions' to take up colour either.

    I would have thought the World Cup of 1970 in Mexico with all that amazing green would have been a bigger influence?

  • Comment number 6.

    I agree. When I woke up I reached for my mobile phone and read on BBC News that Obama was President. I then watched his speech in full and in excellent quality on my laptop. I wouldn't have done either of these things a couple of years ago.

  • Comment number 7.

    The 2008 Olympics did it for me.
    No more having to stay up all night because of a time difference or being home at a set time to catch the highlights a day later on TV.

  • Comment number 8.

    bluecore and lomidavid - you're probably right about the moon landing - and yeovilforthecup, you may be correct in thinking that it was the 1970 World Cup that caused colour to take off in Britain.
    But I remember being sat down in front of the 1969 broadcast of the investiture of Prince Charles at my school - the first major event in colour. So it may not have been the moon landings - though I'm pretty sure the launch of the Apollo 11 mission was broadcast in colour - but I still reckon that 1969 was the year we began to think colour was important.

  • Comment number 9.

    I just about remember the moon landing sat on my fathers knee in the small hours; on a black and white set. Did Nasa record it in colour originally?

    All that seems small potato's today compared to watching the election results come in, not only on the BBC coverage on telly but LIVE ABC coverage streamed from New york as it happend.

    Technology is really driven by the need to know more and the internet provides that source.

    Go Obama!!!!!

  • Comment number 10.

    I didn't watch the election night coverage online (I had a themed election party instead and we all watched the TV into the small hours). However I am definitely a convert to online viewing: only a few weeks ago I stayed up (in bed) with my laptop to watch the BBC's streaming of one of the presidential debates... Probably a bit sad, but then I am a geek anyway!

    Incidentally, don't forget to remind people that watchin internet streaming of live television renders one liable to the TV license... there really is no escape!

  • Comment number 11.

    I think it was a wonderful web video of Obama.


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