There was no clear winner in Thursday night’s Republican presidential debate, but it’s not hard to pick a loser: Fox News and its technical team, which bungled its Internet streaming effort, and then made matters worse by using a copyright notice to take down a YouTube stream that was working.
The debacle began when a surge of viewers, understandably curious to learn about the next potential President of the United States, tried to access the debate via the Fox News website. As I and others discovered right before the debate, the network was not up to the technical challenge:
Fox’s site for cable/satellite customers had trouble streaming the #GOPdebate. “An unprecedented, overwhelming demand caused server issues”
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) August 7, 2015
The only other option to watch was via cable TV and, since I’m a cord-cutter, I had to make haste to a local bar, which was not only showing the debate, but had good WiFi (and beer!) too. Not long into the debate, some helpful folks on Twitter also offered up another option where people could watch the debate online:
Sky News Live has the debate for you fellow cord-cutters. http://t.co/w2QcRWQiCK h/t @nvioli — Greg (@elgreg) August 7, 2015
Folks, here’s the Sky stream for the #GOPDebate that works. Forget the Fox one. You’re welcome. http://t.co/h8k7Zf4reB
— Zeynep Tufekci (@zeynep) August 7, 2015
As it turned out, the European cable giant Sky News was showing a stream of the debate on its YouTube (GOOG) channel, and American viewers could tune in too. This worked out swimmingly for a while but, alas, it didn’t last. At some point towards the end of the debate, the live-stream came to a crashing halt as a result of a copyright notice from Fox News:
oh pic.twitter.com/4g4eesBQzp — Annemarie Dooling (@TravelingAnna) August 7, 2015
This was a sorry enough turn of events, but it became full farce in light of an additional twist: Fox News and Sky News are both owned by the same parent company, 21st Century Fox (FOX) . In other words, Fox’s hair-trigger copyright order led it to take down its own company’s live-stream.
It’s hard to choose where to begin in summing up this debacle. First, why did Fox News not make the debate available to everyone on the Internet in the first place, not just to those who could log in with a cable subscription? Like other major live TV events, including the Super Bowl, many people were watching and talking about the commercials (including the NWA movie trailer), so why did Fox want to limit the debate’s reach?
And, finally, there is the question of what Facebook (FB) was doing in the midst of all this. The company was the other “host” of the debate, and its large F logo was plastered alongside every candidate. It’s baffling why the social network didn’t summon its newfound video prowess to stream the event to the millions of cord-cutting millennials who use its platform.
Fortunately, there are more debates coming up. From a technology standpoint, Fox News has nowhere to go but up.