Editor’s note: This post was amended at 2:09pm CT to reflect updated information on CNN and Facebook’s partnership on the debates.
Tonight, CNN and Facebook are to host the first presidential debate between the Democratic candidates. While political observers wonder what exchanges will be made between front-runners Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, some eyes are on Facebook, and if it can truly create a true second screen experience in the face of social competition?
CNN will be using Facebook Mentions to stream the debate from its Facebook page, the first page to use Mentions to stream video, according to a report from Mashable. CNN, at the time of this posting, has nearly 19 million likes on its page. It was originally available to public figures who had been verified by the site.
The question of second screen arises as Facebook was ranked as the second most viewed source for political news for the baby boomer generation, in research earlier this year by the Pew Research Center. The social network was ranked the top viewed source for political news for millennials according to additional research.
When it comes to debates and major events, many types of social media outlets become second screen experiences. With this partnership, Facebook is attempting to be the provider of the most unique of those experiences.
In an interview with Mashable, Andrew Morse, CNN’s Executive Vice President of Editorial, said events like debates have become instant social events, and the ability to have a seamless experience was crucial.
“To be able to have that ‘second screen’ that is not a prosthetic limb, [that is] seamlessly flowing between TV and happening on Facebook — it’s a really neat concept,” Morse said. “It’s a really elegant dance in certain ways.”
Facebook does however have some competition on that dance floor, most notably with Twitter and Snapchat. Last week, Twitter introduced Moments, the feature that had been known by many as Project Lightning, which is likely too to play a social curating role with tonight’s debate.
Snapchat is also trying to find a footing, as it planned to hire journalists to document the campaign through snaps, in addition to its Discover channel, of which CNN is a content provider. Its head of news, Peter Hamby, who the social network hired earlier this year, was a correspondent for the cable channel in its Washington bureau.
It is unclear how many debates CNN is partnering with Facebook on. Facebook and CNN have an exclusive partnership on the debates for the rest of the primary season, according to a Facebook spokesperson SPJ reached by telephone.
Yet, no matter the results of tonight’s debate, a two-fold question emerges, which social network can provide the best second screen experience, and how can news organizations respond to it? Ultimately, that answer will come not from pollsters, pundits or the public in the series of primaries and elections that will follow, but from the social networks themselves, and the direction they will take to create an experience for its users that will be unique from all the rest.
Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member and founder of SPJ Digital, is SPJ’s Community Coordinator and is a contributing blogger to the SPJ blog network on British media issues and social media’s role in the future of journalism.
The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.