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CNN Politics Vice President: 'Records broken with this debate weren't exclusive to TV ratings'

By Natan Edelsburg | SVP

October 19, 2015 | 6 min read

CNN's Democratic debate last week wasn't only a huge success in ratings. The network's Politics team put a tremendous amount of work into creating an equally impressive digital experience around the debate that also broke records on digital and social.

CNN Debate

CNN Debate

They were able to drive huge numbers of people to their website and live stream. They had a strong partnership with Facebook and became the first brand to use Facebook Mentions Live to live stream behind the scenes. They also worked with Pivit to launch the "CNN Political Prediction Marketplace," a game that allows you to predict what's going to happen in the next election.

Nearly a week after the debate, CNN is still reaping the digital of enabling great primetime television. Most notably, Saturday Night Live's cold opening, feautring Larry David as Bernie Sanders in the debate already has more than two million views. Found Remote interviewed Ed O’Keefe, Vice President of CNN Politics and CNNMoney about their success on digital and social.

Found Remote: Was the debate a success on social and digital? If so, how?

Ed O'Keefe: The records broken with this debate weren't exclusive to TV ratings. Nearly one million people viewed the debate on CNN.com’s homepage live stream, CNN.com saw more than 11 million unique visitors on debate day, 4.3 million total live streams (web, app, and Apple TV) and more than 13 million total video starts. On social, more than 183,000 people in all 50 states voted through CNN’s Facebook page, and the debate live stream in virtual reality was viewed in 73 countries.

FR: What partners did you work with?

EO: We worked with a number of partners for this debate — most notably Facebook. CNN was the first brand to ever use Facebook Mentions Live when Chris Moody went live from The Wynn six times to give users a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into producing the event. The partnership also included a second-screen feedback integration under the tab called “Debate Live Vote” on CNN's Facebook Page. Going into each TV break, a question was asked of viewers, with results reported on-air by Don Lemon in addition to several videos captured from the CNN Facebook #CampaignCamper. You can see Don's live report here.

FR: What were some of the other key digital components?

EO: On top of Facebook’s integration, we also embarked on an extraordinary project to capture moving portraits of every one of the candidates, displayed first on Instagram. When we looked ahead to our election coverage, we knew we wanted to do something much more visually striking. Working with famed photographer Nigel Parry using RED cameras, we captured beautiful and intimate portraits to make the perfect pairing to our video and text coverage of the men and women vying for the most powerful job in the world.

In another first, we worked with Pivit to launch the CNN Political Prediction Marketplace, an interactive game allowing users to forecast what they believe will happen next in the election across a variety of political outcomes. Pivit users conducted 4.5 million trades, the CNN Politics market added nearly 10,000 users during debate night.

CNN Politics also integrated exclusive data from Zignal into our live blog throughout the evening. Zignal's searched across social, TV and the Internet for the conversation occurring around the debate. Zignal's unique real time insight into social conversation and buzz informed our coverage both on-air and in digital.

And, naturally, we are very proud to have claimed the mantle as the first network to live stream a news event in virtual reality.

FR: From a digital perspective, how is this election different from last?

EO: We are seeing a tremendously high level of engagement with this election across all platforms. Four years in today’s media and tech world is a lifetime, and naturally the products, access and use has skyrocketed. It’s an incredibly rewarding challenge to capitalize on the tools available and to see them executed.

CNN upped the ante this primary season. We’re only three debates in, and we’ve already live streamed in virtual reality, streamed two debates on our homepage and mobile apps unathenticated and captured cinematic moving portraits of every single candidate across both parties.

You can access the Found Remote hub here. Sign up to receive The Drum's Found Remote newsletter.

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