Inauguration Question Of The Day: What’s The Largest Online Event Ever?

Over the last 48 hours, I have gotten almost a dozen calls from some of the major news portals and CDNs asking what's the largest online event in the history of the Internet? Clearly, many are already starting to write up their post inauguration press releases to talk about the number of users to their online broadcasts. While this is a question many want to know the answer to, it's one that nobody can truly answer. 

There is no such thing as the largest event ever since after many large-scale online broadcasts we never hear what the simultaneous stream count was. And for those that do release numbers, they are typically very generic and we have no idea if they are even accurate. Apparently CNN is already reporting numbers, but they are only giving total number of streams served and not the number of simultaneous streams they peaked at.

I have done many, many large-scale webcasts where the content owner inflated the numbers the day after the event. But the bigger question here is does it really matter what the largest event was? Should a live event be solely judged based on how many streams were served?

The bottom line is that no matter how big a day it is for streaming video on the net, the combined users of all the news sites and portals would only equal a few Nielsen points. The number of Internet viewers should not be compared to the number of viewers via the traditional broadcast medium. The Internet as we know it today is not capable of supporting the kind of traffic someone like FOX gets to a show like 24. Furthermore, it's not really fair to compare the two when the quality of the video on the Internet is only a fraction of the quality seen on TV, especially in HD. The moment the quality equation comes into the picture, the number of users the Internet can support now and into the future is even smaller when compared to TV broadcasts.

But this lack of traffic volume as compared to TV is not a bad thing, as they are two completely different mediums. I think the real story for today is not the number of simultaneous streams a website is doing, but the fact that some broadcasters were inserting ads into the live stream, offering multiple viewing angles and really embracing online video. Too bad many of them had really poor quality.

At some point you have to ask not only how many users did you reach, but what was the quality of the experienced they received? Success should be measured by more than just raw traffic numbers.