The Futility of Live Blogging and Internet TV

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Thousands of websites “live blogged” the election’s progress, or it may have been tens of thousands. Hundreds offered original live TV from their own modest studios, which covered the same details of the election as larger news sites and TV networks did. Others offered simultaneous webcasts of network feeds. None of it mattered.

Almost certainly, the huge majority of Americans got election results from Walt Disney Co.’s (NYSE: DIS) ABC, Comcast Corp.’s (NASDAQ: CMCSA) NBC and MSNBC, News Corp.’s (NASDAQ: NWSA) Fox or Time Warner Inc.’s (NYSE: TWX) CNN. Their coverage was too complete for any other medium to compete with, and Americans still expect the networks to be the first to “call” election results.

The fantastic notion that people care about live blogging on the Web because they want none of the traditional means to get news or their interpretation of news is a conceit. It is common for financial websites to live blog earnings calls, which people can listen to live directly from the companies, as they have for a long time. It is common for tech sites to live blog product releases, based on the idea that it is not enough for people to read about the products a few minutes after they are released.

Truth to be told, websites already know that live blog or live TV coverage of almost all events they follow draws little traffic. This is for two reasons. First, the audiences for these media are already small, at least to the extent that most people read any single article posted by them. A website with a million monthly visitors has only modest traffic to most of the articles it posts over that month, and that includes live blogs.

The second reason is that, for the largest events, the number of sites with live news and commentary is nearly endless. The live blogs of Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) product releases run to hundreds of sites. The great majority of those have small audiences, and the bigger sites split the pie of live blogged events, which is unlikely to allow any one of them to have a large group of readers.

Living blogging and independent Web TV have become part of the Web because the technology is in place to allow them to exist. But the presence of technology has nothing to do with the presence of an audience, and that is where sites make their great mistakes. They devote resources to something almost no one cares about.

Douglas A. McIntyre