Debating Social News

October 8, 2020

The vice-presidential debate between Senator Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence drove significant viewership across multiple channels, including across social media platforms, as viewers tuned in for the critical conversation. As potential successors to the two oldest nominees to lead the Democratic and Republican tickets for president, during a deadly pandemic that disproportionately affects older people, the debate carried additional weight.

Live streams of the debate from ABC News, CBS News, CNN, Fox News, NBC News, and NBC News Now drove significant viewership on YouTube as the viewer tally across these accounts rose to more than 3 million watching concurrently during the 10 o’clock hour. Around 10:30pm Eastern, ABC News led on YouTube with nearly 1.2 million live concurrent viewers, followed by CNN with around 962k, and Fox News with 442k. Interestingly, Fox News peaked earlier than ABC News and CNN, dropping from its height of 460k concurrent viewers during the hour prior while the two leaders gained momentum as the debate progressed.

Graph Of Youtube Concurrent Live Viewers At Vice Presidential Debate 2020

Overall, Facebook tallied nearly 370k live concurrent viewers across ABC News’ pages, CBS News, Fox News, and NBC News. In addition to their impressive tally on YouTube, ABC News also led on Facebook, hitting 148k live concurrent viewers at 10:30pm Eastern across their pages, followed by CBS News in second with 119k at the same time. NBC News and Fox News topped out closer to 10pm with around 60k and 47k respective live concurrent viewers on Facebook.

Vice Presidential Debate On Facebook Concurrent Live Viewers Graph Chart From Conviva

“Last night’s debate showed the power of social video and the opportunity for broadcasters both large and small to extend their audience on social media with millions of people tuning in beyond traditional linear television,” said Nick Cicero, VP of Strategy at Conviva. “The growth in concurrent viewers for the live streams on social platforms illustrated how social engagement can directly impact viewership growth around key live events, while video clips shared during and following the debate will continue to amass millions of minutes and spark new discussions in diverse communities globally.”

In addition to live interaction, the conversation on social media also continues when the TV turns off, which we see a prime example of in the hours and days following the debate. The top news content from the October 7th debate in terms of total engagements included the following:

1. Taking the top spot of the night was CNN’s Instagram post quoting the stance of Senator Kalama Harris in her willingness to take a vaccine for COVID-19. Less than 24 hours after posting, the image has nearly 200k likes and counting.

2. CNN also captured the second spot with another Instagram post lauding the historic nature of Senator Kamala Harris participating in the vice-presidential debate, as the first Black and South Asian woman to ever do so.

3. Rounding out the top 3, FOX News also saw success on Instagram with a quote from Vice President Mike Pence, defending the President’s response to COVID-19.

4. ABC News had the most engaging content of the night on Facebook with their live stream of the debate, notably the only live stream to break into the top five for engagements.

5. CNN’s content about the historic nature of Senator Kamala Harris participating in the debate as the Democratic nominee also resonated on Facebook, to capture the fifth spot among most engaging content for the evening.

Kamala Harris made history tonight as she walked on the stage, becoming the first Black and South Asian woman to participate in a general election debate

Posted by CNN on Wednesday, October 7, 2020


A special mention goes to former Vice President Joe Biden with the most engaging post of any candidate during the vice-presidential debate, leading Twitter with a timely and humorous call for donations which had more than 848k engagements in 24 hours.

It is clear social media plays a critical role as a medium for broader viewership and facilitating critical conversations, which is further highlighted during important moments in history.

Conviva Social Insights allows a unique view into the success of social accounts including news outlets, benchmarking social marketing and engagement efforts and understanding how content performs with automated content tagging and in-depth campaign reporting for paid and organic social content.