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Twitter courts political conventions, but TV still king

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Twitter courts political conventions, but TV still king

As more political campaigning shifts to social channels and moretelevision shifts to digital channels, TwitterInc.'s move to live streameach party's political convention is a quintessential sign of the times.

Many experts arguethat traditional political marketing platforms, particularly local news and radio,are being challenged by digital channels. Candidates are increasingly turning tosocial and streaming media to capture the hearts of the electorate as younger-skewingvoters tend to find media outside of the traditional ecosystem.

Today, "campaigns are using a bunch of different platformsbecause they're able to reach a bunch of different demographics," SNL Kagananalyst Peter Leitzinger said in an interview. "It is starting to eat into the overall total of what TV generates.… But TV is still the king of political advertising."

While traditional channels continue to cast an effective widenet, campaigns are increasingly viewing social and digital channels as importanttools for targeting.

"We're so used to talking about the broad reach of our stations… that it's come as a bit of a surprise to us that reach is now a dirty word,"Katz Media executive Stacey Schulman said during a recent broadcasting conference.

Yet while it is important for traditional networks to monitorthe trends and experiment with different approaches to reach audiences — as has done with Twitter forthe political convention coverage — it remains to be seen how much a long-term threatto linear networks such efforts might be.

"There's a lot of experimentation going on right now. Thenetwork executives haven't agreed on a singular effort to push their content inthe digital age. It's been more bifurcated … right now, and there's a healthy mixof competition. I don't see that changing anytime soon," SNL Kagan analystScott Robson said in an interview.

Political advertising is still a red-hot market for linear television.For example, FOX News Channel(US) topped all other basic cable networks in both the 24-hour and prime-timeNielsen ratings during the month of March, largely on the strength of its politicalcoverage, according to Robson's research.CNN (US) also saw hugeratings growth in both those windows, 91.5% and 171.9%, respectively, driven inlarge part by political programming.

Robson said that as the available channels to watch a particularevent multiply, it will naturally erode the market for the original channels deliveringthat event. Twitter's stream will certainly take some share away from the otherdigital and linear streams available, he said, but that erosion may be negligible.

In fact, so far, supplementary digital and social channels seemto be helping traditional-media engagement rather than hurting it, the analyst said.Today, digital seems to have an additive effect on linear ratings, as campaigningonline leads to more interest in political television programming.

Indeed, the NielsenHoldings ratings for each of the Republican and Democratic Nationalconventions have held steady since 2000, a time when digital strategies have proliferated.Ratings for the democratic convention jumped by more than 10 points between 2000and 2004 and increased steadily since then. The fact that democratic voters tendto skew a little younger than republican voters, and younger demographics are morelikely to engage with digital media, may be adding some loft to the increasing engagementwith that convention.

Further, the Twitter stream is just one additional channel forthe conventions on a growing list. From 1960 through 1988, only the big three broadcastnetworks aired the conventions. That list rapidly grew after 1988, so that by 2012there were no fewer than 14 networks airing the convention. So while Twitter maytake some market from linear TV, for individual networks the greater threat to ratingsmay come from the proliferation of other linear networks.

Meanwhile, some analysts are beginning to question just how effectivetoday's digital streaming strategies are for traditionally linear programming. Robsonpointed to Yahoo! Inc.'shistoric experiment streaming an NFL game last year. The tech company reported 33.6million streams of that game, but then acknowledged that only 15.2 million wereunique viewers. Further, those viewers only watched about a half hour of the 3.25-hourgame. The numbers penciled out to just 2.4 million TV-comparable viewers, far lessthan a typical NFL game, Fortunereports.

"I think the hype is a little overblown," Robson saidof the impact of digital streaming on TV events.