The 2016 presidential election cycle has seen more than its fair share of firsts, mostly thanks to its colorful cast of characters. But another element has stood out—its innovation in broadcasting debates.
During the primary portion of the election cycle, streaming became the norm, as each network that ran the debate played it simultaneously on its respective website. Monday night’s debate took that further, showcasing yet another change—how websites like Twitter can take advantage of the fact that no TV station has exclusive rights over the general-election debate.
Unlike the primaries, the networks do not take turns running the general election debates. Instead, the non-partisan, non-profit Commission on Presidential Debates runs the show and hands out sets of keys to whoever wants them. That means in addition to every major network, other platforms like Facebook (FB), Twitter (TWTR), and Yahoo (YHOO) can broadcast their own streams.
Depending on whom you ask, including my colleague Daniel Roberts, the social media networks still have yet to master the all-in-one package of merging live social media buzz and video in one easy-to-use window. But the effect of live streaming the debate on social media had one major benefit: The debate was playing wherever you turned, so there was no excuse not to watch it.
To be clear, the general-election debates have been ubiquitous on TV for years, playing on multiple channels to funnel anybody with a TV towards the debates. Today, that ubiquity is even more pronounced. You will not find the debate; the debate finds you.
With the debate stream more accessible than ever thanks to this fresh use of the public video—that’s why there were no commercials, folks—more people watch, even for a little bit, as people practically trip over a video stream anywhere they click. Since the streams are already playing on various websites, all a person needs to do is click on the un-mute symbol.
As the ratings trickle in—early reports show Super Bowl-level viewership—most people will point to the fiery lineup of Trump vs. Clinton. But credit should be given to the spectacle’s omnipresence. No debate has ever been this easy to watch, a trait that should have a marked positive effect on one of the most crucial parts of democracy: an informed electorate.
Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance focusing on consumerism, tech, and personal finance. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann.