Rory Cellan-Jones

Inauguration - were you new or old media?

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 21 Jan 09, 09:45 GMT

So how was it for you? Yesterday I wrote that, while the Obama inauguration might be a big new media happening, it was also the kind of event where the old medium of broadcast television could be the best place to enjoy it.

Rory's deskMid-afternoon, I sat down to try to experience the inauguration (or #inaug09 as Twitter users tagged it) in as many ways as possible, both new and old. I turned the television on my desk to the BBC's output. I opened several tabs in the browser on my laptop to monitor various sites and social networking feeds, and pointed the desktop at the BBC News site.

Oh, and surely there must be a mobile route to the event? I downloaded the new Ustream application to my phone, and attempted to watch live there. This was the one aspect of my activities that impressed my colleagues, who were mostly watching the standard television output. I wandered around the office, showing off the stream of the AP coverage, to plenty of oohs and aahs.

Rory and his phoneBut it was quickly stuttering, then freezing, and I decided that, like a dog that can stand on its hindlegs, streaming video on a mobile phone is merely of curiosity value when you have access to something better.

The joint operation between CNN and Facebook did look impressive. Once you'd worked out how to get there, you could watch CNN's stream from Washington's Mall while updating your Facebook status and seeing exactly what your friends - and the rest of Facebook - were saying about the event. It was an instant online party. Then, seeking something much plainer I turned to which had a feed without any commentary.

All the while, I was looking at Twitter for a bit of instant feedback and the odd picture from the event, though one Tweet summed up rather well the slightly random view you got from this vantage point:

jamesgraham: "Reading inauguration coverage on twitter is a bit like the Sermon on the Life of Brian: 'blessed are the cheesemakers?'"

But then the internet (or the office network) seemed to creak under the strain. The streaming video packed up completely on some sites, and was unsatisfactory on others. And wherever I went online, the video was not quite live - seconds, sometimes minutes behind the broadcast version.

So, as Aretha Franklin launched into what seemed to British ears an electrifying rendition of "God Save The Queen" (it was actually "My Country Tis of Thee), I concentrated on good old-fashioned live television for the rest of the ceremony.

Old media won the day for me, albeit with some enjoyable social networking spice. But what do the figures show for the rest of the world? Facebook and CNN were soon shouting from the rooftops about their collaborative effort. 600,000 status updates were posted through the Live Facebook feed, and 18 million live video streams were served up, as compared with around five million on the day of the presidential election, their previous record. And that experiment where they asked for photos of the moment Obama took the oath, and then stitched them together into a 3D mosaic worked a treat.

Our own BBC site was getting heavy traffic - about 30% above a normal day at around 1700 GMT UK time, though that dropped back once the event was over. But, as my colleague who looks at web traffic predicted, it wasn't a record-breaking event. 7.4 million people used the BBC news site yesterday, some way short of the 10 million who turned up on US election day. The stats coming out of the US paint a mixed picture, with records broken for social networking traffic but not for news sites.

What is clear is that this event will have a long tail on the web. YouTube videos were already being posted within minutes - here's one of that Aretha Franklin performance - and video and text of the inaugural speech are going to be available online for students for generations to come, along with the kind of user-generated content that just did not exist 10 years ago.

But for every person who surfed, tweeted and streamed their way through 20 January 2009, there were many more who just sat on sofas around the world and watched the TV. There is always nonsense talked about television audiences for global events - I think the 1.5 billion mentioned in some places has just been pulled out of a hat - but it is clear that in the US and around the world hundreds of millions were tuned into live television at noon Washington time.

Mind you, the Obama administration is already looking very 21st Century in its own approach to new media, with a new version of the White House website going live, just as the new president started his slightly halting path through the oath of office.

The website now features a "blog" - though one that does not appear to be written by the president or any other named individual and does not allow readers to comment. Perhaps there's a little work to be done before we can say there's a Web 2.0 White House.

Update 2008-01-23 1657: Thanks mute_posting for the heads-up: that slip of the keyboard is now fixed.


  • Comment number 1.

    It was neither new media or old... it was just much closer because of the access over the Internet to all the information, video and conversations. That is a massive difference and starts to make everyone feel like they are neighbours rather than the 'other' people.

  • Comment number 2.

    In the coworking space from which I work, where most of us are frequent users of all the shiny new toys like Twitter, u-stream, etc we chose a hybrid of old and new; the BBC News output, but viewed over the internet rather than TV.

    It was fun to continue watching the later coverage via u-stream on my iPhone whilst waiting for my bus in a wifi hotspot, but no substitute for old media – yet.

  • Comment number 3.

    "I think the 1.5 billion mentioned in some places has just been pulled out of a hat"

    That was exactly my thought.

    I was still working until 17:30 so I sat in the sitting room with my laptop watching the plain old BBC TV coverage. I did have twitter open and did make a tweet or three (but, of course, forgot the #inaug09 hashtag).

  • Comment number 4.

    For me, it was a multitasking mix. I was
    1. watching the coverage on BBCHD
    2. Participating in conversations on Twitter
    3. Checking out websites and links as they came up on Twitter
    4. Working (building a website)

    On the White House blog, the first post said it was Macon Phillips, the Director of New Media for the White House who was writing, but he did say that he was "one of the people contributing the the blog", not the only one.

    He emphasised the importance of transparency as a rationale for their social media strategy, so perhaps we can hope that future White House blog authors will be as forthcoming about their identity?

    The lack of comments is disappointing, but as with our own Number 10, the logistics of moderating conversations would be a total headache wouldn't they!

  • Comment number 5.

    Ended up very "new media" for me. Was at work without TV access, so followed it mostly via Twitter (with occasional forays to the Guardian's live blog).

    Then when I got home I watched the oath, speech etc. on iPlayer.

  • Comment number 6.

    I'm usually a BBC viewer when it comes to major events.

    But I found Skynews live HD streaming very god on my Macbook Pro. I also tried uStrem on a iPhone which worked, but got a few timeouts - probably due to the number of people using it.

    Sat watching a HD broadcast from the US without any wires - how things have changed since my Z80.

  • Comment number 7.

    I followed comments on Twitter, and watched the Hulu stream (in the UK) via Boxee. The streaming held up reasonably well, and the comments on Twitter gave a bit of a different view. Of course just watching on TV would have avoided the odd video stutter.

  • Comment number 8.

    The Americans don't need a Presidency that uses the internet as you do, and we don't really need a Number 10 to use it either.

    Media of all type has now got completely out of control

    The BBC used to have 2 TV stations, great local radio and important national radio. It was mostly of good quality, repeats were once only (months later) and few, and all the news sounded fresh and keenly researched and produced on time.

    Now, the BBC has 24 hour news, a multitude of TV channels and digital radio channels and the massive website. It has embraced new media (albeit late and very clumsily - no you were not ground breaking, your PR just said you were) to a massive extent.

    It delivers poorly researched stories cycled and recycled endlessly as journalists and editors split their time trying to fill ridiculous amounts of air time. We have programmes that can be repeated anything up to 4 and 6 times within a couple of weeks of transmission, vast amounts of wisely forgotten archive material peddled out by the ton load, and masses of egocentric presenters fighting for celeb status.

    The independent commercial channels have exactly the same problem.

    The effect on ITV et al? Their advertising revenue is now thinned as price per spot prices fall through the floor and their costs spiral.

    The effect on the BBC? Poor quality programming, budget cuts, and a swamp of an offering where finding anything new is nearly impossible.

    I NEVER thought I would see the day when one broadcaster would run both the new series and the old series of a programme at the same time!

    But all broadcasters are doing precisely that.

    The BBC says it is about choice.

    Poppycock! It is simply about outdoing each other. The ultimate shame being that Ofcom has actually encouraged this.

    And now you want the organisations who run whole countries to waste their time and our money in the same way?


  • Comment number 9.

    I watched the Silverlight stream on the official pic2009 site using Firefox on an XP PC on a wired LAN which has an "up to" 16Mb/s adsl connection. It worked very well, with quality comparable to an standard-res TV signal. I was very impressed.

  • Comment number 10.

    During the event itself it was a combination of Radio 4 (I was driving) and BBC HD once I got back home.

    Where the new media alternatives will come into their own is after the event. I'm itching to check the CNN photosynth for example, I just can't install the plugin at work!

  • Comment number 11.

    I watched it from my desk at work on the dear old - excellent stream, never faltered once, though we do have a 20mb pipe here.

    I blogged my way through the day here:

  • Comment number 12.

    Good old television for me. It was nice to just enjoy it and let the announcers ferret out bits of information to spice up the slow moments. Instead of sitting there with Twitter, Wikipedia, streaming video etc. in fifty different windows!

  • Comment number 13.

    I suspect that the Obama White House blog will - at best - be just another offshoot of the Whitehouse Press office (e.g. see links at the bottom of its page), at worst a more official looking extension of his campaign website.
    He may post, just as he'll give prepared speeches and announcements, but they will be as carefully planned and orchestrated.

  • Comment number 14.

    Gurubear wrote:

    "Media of all type has now got completely out of control"

    Good! Who wants it any other way.

    The CNN 3D mosaic photosynth test worked out magnificently. As new photos are added it just gets better.

  • Comment number 15.

    "But for every person who surfed, tweeted and streamed their way through 20 January 2008"

    erm... aren't we in 2009?

  • Comment number 16.

    Stayed with CNN (on cable) all evening long from 4pm (UK time) onwards. Closest thing to being there as far as I was concerned.

  • Comment number 17.

    The only failing I experienced was the BBC TV commentators in Washington talking over the music and singing and also interrupting the spoken proceedings. Really spoilt it for me, was also a point of contention amongst my small group of twitter friends simultaneously commenting on events.....

    The Actual Ceremony was just that with it's own presenter and IMHO least said would have been more than enough from the usual BBC spokespersons.

  • Comment number 18.

    I set my laptop up to record it through a TV tuner, so a mix of both.

  • Comment number 19.

    urgh, yet another big news story, yet another BBC twitter love-in.

    other (and better) services are available and should be given a chance. or does the beeb hold a stake in our electronic fethered boredom!?

  • Comment number 20.

    I guess I'm the odd one out here. I was outside in a field patching up fences, clearing ditches and then cutting up logs, not a trace of IT or communication technology near me.

    I did check the news on the BBC website later that night though. Haven't had time to watch the speech but will do so sometime in the future. Don't have a television and radio reception is not good so I guess I'm new media.

  • Comment number 21.

    I was on the (old media) for the Inauguration because I knew that the new media was going to have problems....

    ~Dennis Junior~

  • Comment number 22.

    new media, all the way.

    can't stand the insufferable meat-puppet-improv, with their vacuous chatlines blotting out the live event sounds -- catching Twitter provides all the gush and gabble anyone could need, and smart insightful sites ( for example) provide insider detail at whatever depth is one's taste.

  • Comment number 23.

    I was a 'no media' person.

    I got that sick of the wall to wall worship of the new messiah I turned the tele off.

    I went on a photography website for a while. Several people commented on the unusually high number of people logged on. Then someone else noted we were all there because we were sick of Obamamania.

    I would have been interested to see some coverage of the (almost half) of Americans who did not vote for the messiah.

  • Comment number 24.

    This was definitrely an event for the big screen, in the same way that many films lack sparkle on TV. I watched it on TV, didn't even think about using new media as they are patently inferior for this type of occasion.

    However, having said that, but I'm afraid I switched channels to Sky after a while as Huw Edwards' commentary was excruciating - both pompous and banal, and cut across the event inappropriately. The guest commentators were nobodies (I suppose all the somebodies were in the official party).

    All in all the worst showing by BBC news since the Olympics opening ceremony, which as I recall also involved the dreadful Mr. Edwards.

  • Comment number 25.

    CNN was useless online - why did they use Octagon? What was wrong with some kind of traditional webstream program?

    And the BBC got it wrong (again) with Huw Edwards. What was wrong with Matt Frei? Or Justin Webb? Or Gavin Esler who did the job so well the last couple times?

  • Comment number 26.

    Well, I used a mixture; a 3G card (using HSDPA) on my latop, and that's because my work is mobile. I certainly would have watched on TV if I had the chance, given the importance of the event.

    I signed into the Facebook/CNN thing but initially I couldn't watch the live stream as it said the system had reached capacity. Although disappointing, that's much better than the system falling over for everyone. So well done to CNN for doing their homework on the tech, which actually doesn't take much.

    It didn't take moments before I got the live stream, which was a bit shaky at the beginning; occasional freezing and all. But it soon stabilised though I wasn't sure whether to attribute it to CNN having beefed up their streaming servers or the HSDPA connection having improved.

    I even opened the BBC's live stream simultaneously without problems! Regarding the two streams, CNN was lagging behind the BBC by as much as 3 secs, though I preferred CNN because they were streaming a much bigger screen resolution.

  • Comment number 27.

    I suppose one important thing to keep in mind is that in terms of quality, TV and new media are incomparable at the moment. However, it's other factors such as convenience, interactivity, mobility, etc that favour new media.

    I mentioned above that it was not exactly convenient for me to watch the event on TV as I was out and about. But the new media enabled me to experience it while on the move and I shared the moment with so many friends in real time! TV can't do that, yet. Yahoo and others are working on it, though.

  • Comment number 28.

    Aretha Franklin's performance was NOT electrifying. She took a perfectly acceptable piece of music and murdered it. Why do these stars have to seek glory at the wrong time? Her rendition was more fitted to a blues bar on Beale Street!

  • Comment number 29.

    I have to agree with fspeirs and I am a big fan of the Queen of Soul as she murdered a good song. It was paining my ears to listen to her caterwauling. She was goddamn awful I don't think she was seeking glory I just think that her voice has gone time and she should retire. I'd have gone with Latoya London or a jazz singers such as Dianne Reeves, Nenna Freelon, Deborah Cox not that well know but great voices however would the crowd and the event have fazed them mmm not sure but they'd have sounded better than Aretha.

  • Comment number 30.

    When you take in all the mobile devices that have some graphical capability and Internet connectivity, you discover dozens of variations, using different standards to boot. Web provides a model for expressing the basic structure and content of concept schemes such as thesauri, classification schemes, and subject heading lists, taxonomies, folksonomies, and other similar types of controlled vocabulary. takes the guesswork out of getting your business online. We can build affordable professional websites with features including email, hosting, domain name registration, online marketing and BLOGGING. Best of all, we expresses our ideas and thought immediately online. Web is still web but it is more complex and broadens. It is the final stage of innovation in technologies nowadays. It provides entertainment for the people and subscribers. Are you watching too much TV, we can already switch to internet watching shows rather than using television. Well, the trend is to become a couch potato, as the number of hours watched moves upward everywhere. The world on average is watching more, as the 2008 viewing time increased by one minute from 2007. (One Minute? Such decadence!) The North American total had the largest increase, of four minutes. Most parents would undoubtedly give an instant payday loan to anyone who can figure out how to get the kids to watch less TV.


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites