The Meager DeSantis Twitter Launch Shows Fox News Has Nothing to Worry About. Yet.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) officially launched his 2024 presidential campaign on Wednesday night, dropping an announcement video and participating in a glitch-riddled conversation on Twitter with Elon Musk. The event was preceded by Axios declaring in a headline that “Musk moves in on Murdoch” as some pundits and observers noted Musk positioning himself as the future of mass media, while others questioned whether Musk could actually provide the audience television news could.
Those questions were squarely answered on Wednesday night and, at least as of right now, Musk has clearly shown both in terms of reach and technical savvy that Twitter is no competition for legacy media – despite the promise of Tucker Carlson and the Daily Wire bringing their shows to the platform.
The DeSantis Twitter Spaces event began around 6 p.m. with an introduction by moderator David Sacks, a tech investor Musk knows from his PayPal days. The audio continued to cut in and out and was marred by feedback sounds and other glitches until it eventually shut down around 6:20 p.m.
The Guardian reported the initial Twitter Spaces peaked at some 600,000 concurrent listeners, while the AP reported the number never climbed above 500,000 – a discrepancy possibly explained by the platform glitching.
“We got so many people here that we are kind of melting the servers, which is a good sign,” Sacks said as the event crashed.
The conversation was later relaunched on Sacks’s Twitter account – the original was hosted by Musk – and Sacks explained, “I think it crashed because when you multiply a half-million people in a room by an account with over 100 million followers, which is Elon’s account, I think that creates just a scalability level that was unprecedented.”
Musk and Sacks then agreed that Sacks’s account could hold the event because it had fewer followers. The event also drew far fewer concurrent listeners. The Verge reported the second Twitter Spaces, in which DeSantis finally made his announcement, maxed out at 300,000 concurrent listeners.
Sacks kept the link to the event, which can be replayed and listened to, on his Twitter feed, and as of the writing of this article, it shows 3.3 million people have “tuned in” — meaning watched either live or after the event ended.
Compared to cable news, 300,000 concurrent listeners is a very small audience. Nielsen’s cable news ratings come as an average of concurrent viewers throughout any given program. When Rachel Maddow or Sean Hannity are said to have an audience of 2.5 million on their nightly shows, that’s an average. And it’s way higher than the audience that tuned into Twitter Spaces last night.
Musk replied, “Wow,” to one of his boosters on Wednesday night who claimed in a tweet following the event that “Total listeners between the @DavidSacks/@elonmusk space and our live stream is over 6.5 MILLION listeners and rising. The CNN Town Hall with Trump only had 3.3 million.”
“The death of mainstream media. Enough said,” concluded Mario Nawfal. It’s important to note that the Twitter user, in addition to comparing the wrong statistics, added together the pre and post-event Twitter Space with figures like Rudy Giuliani and Benny Johnson, which was largely a battle between Trump and DeSantis supporters, which is not the Twitter Spaces event DeSantis announced on. Sacks also retweeted Nawfal and claimed, “Wow 6.5 million listeners and growing fast.”
Nawfal’s logic is flawed for a few reasons. CNN’s Trump town hall earlier in the month did indeed bring in 3.308 million viewers, but total average viewers not concurrent viewers. The peak concurrents for that event would be far higher than the Nielsen average, just as the average viewership of the peak 300,000 Twitter Spaces would be much lower. While Nielsen doesn’t offer data on peak concurrents, CNN did release a comparable figure that illustrates the dynamic.
CNN live-streamed the Trump town hall on CNN.com simultaneously without requiring a cable login. The live stream, according to CNN, generated nearly 1 million live video starts, which would be the equivalent figure to the 3.3 million people who “tuned in” to Sack’s Twitter Space. The CNN live stream peaked at 149,000 concurrent viewers and “saw an average audience of 100k users live streaming the average minute of coverage (equivalent to the way TV ratings are calculated),” according to a statement.
Fox News’s The Five, for example, averaged 2.64 million total viewers last week, which would be almost 9 times the peak audience for the Twitter Spaces event, and furthermore, The Five’s total viewership would be far higher than the average as viewers come and go during the hour.
Sacks joined Fox News’s Laura Ingraham after the conversation and declared the event a huge success, saying that “a million people [were] simultaneously trying to get into” the event. Even if the Twitter Spaces event had peaked over 1 million concurrents, it would still be far below cable news’s daily viewership and four or more times below CNN’s Trump town hall. And, that is just accounting for live viewership, clips of the CNN Trump town hall were replayed countless times across YouTube, social media, and other media outlets further amplifying the event’s reach – something the audio-only Twitter Space is unlikely to emulate.
In the first quarter of 2023, Fox News averaged over 2 million viewers across prime time (before Tucker Carlson was fired) while MSNBC averaged over 1 million viewers and CNN averaged 568,000 total viewers. So, while Musk hosting DeSantis’s presidential launch was undeniably a big get for Twitter and new media in general, he certainly has a ways to go in catching cable news for influence.
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