Eric Johnson

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At Least the Internet Turned Out to Be a Good Government Investment — Millions Watched Debate Online

Who won the first Presidential debate last night? According to the cable news pundits, the winner was Republican candidate Gov. Mitt Romney. The other winner, according to Twitter’s peanut gallery, was Sesame Street’s Big Bird, who came up in Romney’s pitch for cutting PBS funding.

But the other other winner was video streaming. This year, you definitely didn’t need an old-fangled television to watch the debates, with online offerings ranging from simple videos to live fact-checking and commentary.

YouTube’s politics channel carried videos from multiple sources, including the New York Times and Univision. And a YouTube spokesperson said they had “millions of live streamed views of the debates, and one of the highest number of concurrent streams ever for a YouTube live stream.”

(Updated 4:59 p.m. PT): Ustream has added their numbers to the fray, reporting 3.5 million total video streams of the debate and debate-related videos yesterday. However, bear in mind that that number covers both live and recorded video views, not just live streaming.

Meanwhile, CNN reported that their debate videos were at least started nearly five million times, with 1.2 million people watching live worldwide. A network spokesperson added that yesterday was one of CNN’s best for live video this year — second only to Whitney Houston’s funeral, which attracted 700,000 more viewers.

By contrast, Nielsen reported that 67 million people who did have those old-fangled television contraptions tuned in to watch the debates that way.

Other online offerings included video and interactive features on AOL’s network of Patch, and the Huffington Post, which brought in 400,000 streaming viewers. And The Wall Street Journal’s various video streams across sites like YouTube, Hulu and UStream, as well as on and TV set-top devices like Roku, brought in more than 100,000 viewers.

Hulu also offered video from ABC News and Fox News, but a site spokesperson declined to share numbers about their performance.

Aereo, which also did not share statistics about their video performance, offered New Yorkers two hours of free access to their online live TV streaming service in order to watch the debate.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik