Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump may be the title fight at Monday night's presidential debate, but Facebook and Twitter will be duking it out just as much. The two social networks will have dueling online streams of the broadcast, marking the first time the tech companies face off over live coverage of a major news event.
Over the past year and a half, the two Silicon Valley social giants have grown their presence in the live-streaming market, and those efforts will be coming to a head with the presidential debate.
"This is about the first time Twitter and Facebook have really gone head to head with streaming essentially the same content. Until now, the two have had separate relationships for different content," said Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research. "It will be particularly interesting to see what the companies have to say about the size of their audiences after the fact, and whether they use comparable metrics, or whether they'll look to make such comparisons difficult."
The two social networks are set to stream each of the three upcoming presidential debates, along with the vice presidential debate between candidates Mike Pence and Tim Kaine. Twitter will provide coverage in partnership with Bloomberg Television while Facebook's offering will come as the result of a team-up with ABC News.
"With their robust Facebook Live coverage plans and deep bench of political journalists, ABC News will help facilitate an open dialogue among voters and create an engaging and immersive experience from each debate," said Andy Mitchell, Facebook director of news and global media partnerships, in a statement.
Both companies offered competing live streams of the Democratic and Republican national conventions this summer, but both were low-key events that drew little fanfare from either company. Those live streams were essentially testing grounds for the upcoming general election debates.
"Twitter is the most direct way to engage with the candidates and issues of this election and to participate in the live, public conversation around its key events," said Adam Sharp, Twitter's head of news, government, and elections, in a statement.
For Twitter, live streaming has become a key tool in the efforts of CEO Jack Dorsey to pump life back into the service. Dorsey and his team have been looking at the streaming of live sports, business, and political events as a way to draw in new users and give them valuable content they can immediately tweet about and use to connect with others.
"Twitter needs the live streaming experience to be successful in order to create some momentum," said Joe Anthony, partner at Gregory FCA, a public relations firm. "They need to create a user experience that changes the feeling that it's more than a news feed."
The presidential debate comes at a key moment for Twitter, which has been the subject of takeover talks over the past couple of weeks. Reports on Friday indicated the San Francisco company could soon receive formal acquisition bids from the likes of Google and Salesforce. Additionally, the company's board reportedly discussed the possibility of selling the company a few weeks ago.
"For Twitter, it's an opportunity to address some of the concerns that have been in the market thus far in regard to growing its user base and then monetize that user base going forward," said Jason Moser, an analyst for Motley Fool.
Meanwhile, Mark Zuckerberg has turned to Facebook Live, its live-streaming offering, as a way to re-engage with users and prompt them to publish more content on the service after seeing a decline in original posts by users last year. The Menlo Park company has enlisted the help of celebrities, news outlets, and notable business executives as a way to promote Facebook Live and inspire users to make their own broadcasts. Now, the company is turning to the presidential debate for the same reasons.
There'll be particular interest in seeing how Facebook's broadcast performs, considering the company recently came under major scrutiny from its advertising partners after revelations that a "mistake" had caused it to inflate its video viewership figures for two years.
"For Facebook, any positive news will help move investors and critics minds away from recent video ad revenue concerns," said Isaac Cohen, vice president and financial advisor at Forest Hills Financial Group.
The debate on Monday is not the first to be live streamed. YouTube, for example, has streamed many debates this year and in previous cycles, and will also be doing the same this time around. But four years ago, the last time the two major parties debated on the national stage, video was not a major component of social media. Neither Facebook nor Twitter offered much in terms of the medium.
Now, video, and live streaming in particular, are key to the strategies of each company, and inevitably, the streams of both social networks will draw comparisons. Any glitches, and it could be a major embarrassment for either company.
Online streaming remains a young, growing market, and most analysts agree there is probably room for both Facebook and Twitter at the moment. But comparison of the two is only natural.
"You have two important communication platforms that are streaming the same event. Comparing them will be hard to avoid," said Brian Blau, an analyst at Gartner. Where there's similarities, "I think it will be fair to take a look at both and see how they did."