How DeSantis’s Twitter Spaces Event Compares to Past Livestreams
Within hours of Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida announcing his presidential run on Twitter on Wednesday, participants in the audio event celebrated the achievement.
David Sacks, a venture capitalist who moderated the Twitter conversation, declared it “by far the biggest room ever held on social media.” After the event, Mr. DeSantis, a Republican, said in a podcast interview that he thought by later that day “probably over 10 million people” would have “watched” the event, called a Twitter Space, or a recording of it.
They were wrong on both counts.
According to Twitter’s metrics, the audio event — which was initially marred by more than 20 minutes of technical glitches before it was restarted — garnered a high of about 300,000 concurrent listeners, or those who simultaneously tuned in as Mr. DeSantis made his announcement. As of Thursday, a total of 3.4 million people had listened to the Space or a recording of it, according to Twitter’s numbers.
Those figures fell short of reaching 10 million people and also were far from being “the biggest room on social media” compared with past livestreams.
Consider that a 2016 Facebook Live event, featuring two BuzzFeed employees placing rubber bands around a watermelon until it exploded, drew more than 800,000 concurrent viewers and a total of five million views within hours of its conclusion. The 2017 livestream of a pregnant giraffe on YouTube brought in five million viewers a day.
The event with Mr. DeSantis was even dwarfed by past audio livestreams on Twitter. Last month, more than three million people at one point concurrently listened to an interview of Elon Musk, Twitter’s owner, by a BBC reporter in a Twitter Space, according to the company’s numbers. A recording of that Space said 2.6 million listeners ultimately “tuned in.” (Twitter did not explain the discrepancy between the concurrent listener count and the “tuned in” figure.)
“Getting a few hundred thousand people to do something for some number of minutes is not that big of a deal,” said Brian Wieser, a longtime media analyst who runs the Madison and Wall strategic advisory firm. “I’m not quite sure that using Twitter to announce a presidential campaign was the most impactful environment, though maybe Twitter could become that.”
Determining the reach and audience for Mr. DeSantis’s announcement on Twitter is significant because the online event had been heralded as a modern way of making political proclamations, bypassing traditional media such as cable news and network television. Yet the initial numbers from Twitter raise questions about whether any presidential candidate can ignore traditional media for their big campaign announcements.
Although television does not generally pull in the same numbers that it did a decade ago, some political events that are broadcast live still garner large audiences. When President Biden delivered his State of the Union address on Feb. 7, for instance, the speech was aired live to 27.3 million people watching on 16 TV networks, according to Nielsen.
Representatives for Mr. DeSantis, who followed his Twitter Space by appearing on Fox News, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Mr. Sacks and Mr. Musk also did not immediately respond to emailed questions.
That is not to say that using social media to make political announcements cannot be powerful. Mr. Wieser said that with so much media fragmentation happening, there was no unifying platform and that the quality of the audience was often a motivating factor for politicians. Perhaps, he said, Mr. DeSantis’s goal was not reaching the most people, but reaching those who would be best convinced to donate to him or help spread his message.
Comparing social media’s reach with television broadcasts also can be difficult. A “unique” view on social media represents each individual account that visits a post or other content, rather than the number of times it is visited. Such views do not necessarily come from humans because bot activity might be involved, and do not denote whether a viewer tuned in for half a second or half an hour. By contrast, TV ratings represent the average number of viewers across a longer period, Mr. Wieser said.
Twitter also does not explain the difference in how it counts listeners on its livestreams and those who have listened to recordings of Twitter Spaces.
“The reach on Twitter is artificial: People tune in and out more quickly, they’re likely watching on a mobile device that just isn’t as effective in getting people’s attention as a large TV set,” said Ross Benes, a senior analyst with Insider Intelligence who covers digital video, TV and streaming.
After the conclusion of the Twitter Space on Wednesday with Mr. DeSantis, traditional media poked fun at the technical glitches of the event. When Mr. DeSantis appeared on Fox News, Trey Gowdy, the host, quipped, “Fox News will not crash during this interview.” The segment drew nearly two million viewers.
On Thursday, Mr. DeSantis also tried to make light of the Twitter Space’s technical problems. His campaign sent out fund-raising emails and showcased T-shirts saying the presidential candidate “broke the internet.”
Nicholas Nehamas and John Koblin contributed reporting.