Mark Fisher

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Streaming and the Final Presidential Debate

The Final Debate – The Night Streaming Saved Democracy on University Campuses Across the Country

As the third and final presidential debate came to a conclusion and the fact checkers came forward with their findings, we decided to take a look at those who streamed the debates to see what conclusions we can draw about the politics of online video and, perhaps, the implications for the upcoming election.

In this case, we found the most interesting insights come from some of the universities and colleges across the US whose students fit the classic ‘cord cutter’ or ‘cord never’ profiles. They sit in their dorm rooms without a cable connection but still want to tune in to watch the last of these truly historic debates between the Democratic and Republican nominees for the highest office in the county. Without streaming, how would they become informed citizens? Would they be forced to ask their parents how to vote in the coming election? Thankfully, streaming came to the rescue and in one evening managed to help preserve democracy and foster independent thinking among our young generation.

While we have no particular political agenda in mind, it does seem that one might be able to deduce something about the political interests and persuasion of the student body of a particular institution based on the profile of streaming during the presidential debates. We’ll present the data in a fair and balanced manner and let you decide what conclusions, if any, may be drawn.

Our open cache systems are deployed at a large number of US universities. With this large installed based, we’re able to sample traffic from a wide variety of universities, large and small, public and private across the US. The snapshots of traffic profiles in some of the universities we support, provide a sometimes telling and sometimes entertaining view into the way politics may be revealed in the streaming habits of students at our institutions of higher learning.

Spoiler alert: Despite the astounding volume of streaming traffic from last night’s debate, we are unable to predict (with any certainty) who will win the November 8th election and be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. Nevertheless, we’re sharing select snapshots of the mountain of streaming data available to us from the many open cache systems deployed across the United States.

So, let’s get started with a quick tour of some universities whose students generated massive streams of the next President of the United States … and the other candidate in the race.


New York State – Public University

October 19th 2016 – 3rd Presidential Debate Week of October 12th 2016 – Prior to Debate




As context, most of the students of this large public university are residents of New York State.

New York has traditionally voted for Democrats in presidential elections. As evidence of its political stance, New York sent 26 Democrats and three Republicans to the 111th Congress which convened in 2009 at the beginning of President Obama’s first term in the White House.

Netflix ranked #1 last night and over the last week. Nevertheless, CNN, which did not appear in the top 15 rankings in the previous week, came out of nowhere to rank #3 last night during the debates. Also note that CBS, Fox New Radio and ABC News all appear in the top 15 which is not the case in a typical week. Finally, note Twitter’s rank at #7, a sign that these viewers were accessing the debates through a wide range of traditional media outlets and some new media sites.

The high ranking of CNN suggests it was the preferred source of the live debate stream and seems to signal that most students sought out that news outlet as their preference for this event. However, CNN did not dominate the streaming at this university as the other major networks – CBS, ABC and Fox – all drew an audience.

What’s quite clear, however, is that Netflix still reigns supreme. This could be because many of the students had already made up their minds about who would get their vote and saw no need to view the last debate. Those who streamed the debate may have been among the undecided, looking for something to sway their opinion, or they may have just tuned in for the entertainment value, not wanting to miss out.




Connecticut – Private University

October 19th 2016 – 3rd Presidential Debate Week of October 12th 2016 – Prior to Debate




A small, private university in Connecticut. Most students are New England natives and pay a considerable sum in tuition to attend.

Connecticut has consistently voted for Democrats for last 6 presidential elections.

From the results above, it appears this is an exceptionally devoted and politically minded student body as you can see that Xfinity unseated even the great Netflix on the night of the debate. We are speculating that the popularity of Xfinity is due to students borrowing their parents account credentials to stream from their university dorms. You’ll also note Twitter, CNN, CBS and ABC rise into the top 15 sites during the debates. We must admit that the apparent dedication of students to streaming the debates is admirable and suggests they are taking their participation in the political process quite seriously.

As shown in the streaming profile during a typical week, there are a number of far less serious streaming sources that seem to catch their attention. We’re not going to report back to the parents on this finding. Even serious students deserve a break from time to time.



Illinois – Private University

October 19th 2016 – 3rd Presidential Debate


A private university near Chicago. Most students are residents of Illinois.

Illinois has a long tradition of voting Democratic. This is also the home state for President Obama.

However, we can set aside any discussion of politics as last night was also the night of game 4 of the playoff series between the Chicago Cubs and the LA Dodgers. We can’t possibly blame these students for being Cubs fans – even if it means missing the presidential debate. From the rankings, we see CNN ranks #12, well below #2 Fox Sports, #3 MLB Live and #10 DirecTV Live. In this case, sports trumps politics. Is this a great country or what?


Arizona – For-Profit University

October 19th 2016 – 3rd Presidential Debate



A for-profit university. Nearly every student is an Arizona resident.

Arizona has voted Republican since 1952 with the one exception of Bill Clinton’s win in 1996.

These students appear to have succumbed to the many distractions offered by online video. It’s hard to ascertain their political persuasion but it is clear they are not taking the debates too seriously. It’s quite possible that all of these students have already made up their minds and don’t see a need to tune into the debates to get more information.

And so the journey ends. We love video and we’ll keep reporting on this great transformation – from broadcast television to Internet TV – as it continues to unfold. It’s a once in a lifetime event for all of us and, as part of the Qwilt team, we’re proud to be helping Internet Service Providers prepare their networks for the future of streaming.