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Online Inauguration Coverage Hit Record Numbers

January 21, 2009

Yesterday, the inauguration of president Barack Obama was available on live web feeds from every major news outlet in what was potentially the most Web-driven coverage of a significant news event yet.

The majority of those viewers were at work in front of their computers – and away from TV sets – for the midday swearing in that drew in tens of millions of spectators.

Akamai Technologies Inc., which is hired by many news sites to handle video delivery, reported 7.7 million people watched video streams carried by Akamai at the same time on Tuesday, a record for the company.

CNN.com said it served more than 21.3 million live streams globally since 6 a.m. that morning. Jennifer Martin, a spokeswoman for the site, said CNN.com fed 1.3 million live streams simultaneously at its peak.

However, the overwhelming demand meant some Web sites and data networks had trouble keeping up, forcing many people to turn to less cutting-edge forms of media.

“It was really frustrating to have this great technology and still not be able to watch the speech,” said Dan Robinson, who runs the box office at the Julliard School in New York. “I had to use this TV from the early ’80s and some rabbit ears to watch it.”

Many CNN.com viewers were put in a virtual line to receive a working stream.

The Associated Press had its own issues, as new viewers could not access its video streams on various Web sites for around 2 hours. Both companies use Akamai for streaming video.

NPR.org was almost completely unavailable around noon.

One student at the University of Florida attempted to watch the inauguration online at her school library. She checked the web casts from numerous sites, including CNN, but was frustrated by the interruptions.

“There were so many pauses that I missed really crucial moments of the inauguration,” said Lyndsey Lewis, 22. “I didn’t expect it to be TV quality, but I definitely thought it would be a lot better than it was.”

It seems that the masses of online video viewers even slowed the Internet as a whole.

The web’s top 40 sites slowed by as much as 60 percent when the ceremony started at 11 a.m. Central, and many news sites saw even sharper declines in performance, according to Keynote Systems Inc., which tracks Web site performance.

Akamai’s global index of news consumption said, however, that Tuesday was not a record day in terms of the number of news Web site pages perused. They put the top usage at 5.4 million visitors per minute, below the 8.6 million registered on Election Day.

Image Courtesy Whitehouse.gov

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