U.S. media outlets reported a record number of video stream views on the day of the inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama. ((Jae C. Hong/Associated Press))

Interactivity, timing and convenience are behind the mounting popularity of online video, experts say — a trend exemplified by web coverage of the U.S. presidential inauguration on Tuesday.

CNN.com reported more than 21.3 million video stream views globally between 6 a.m. and 3 p.m. ET Tuesday, more than four times the previous record of 5 million viewers, reached on Nov. 4, U.S. election day. Foxnews.com also reported a record five million stream views, while MSNBC.com had over nine million stream views by 1 p.m. ET, Mediaweek.com reported.

'We're finding that any event that's live during day hours creates that perfect storm where people are at work on their computers.' —Jeff Young, Akamai Technologies 

CNN.com's numbers were probably helped in large part by a partnership with social networking site Facebook. As part of the partnership, users were able to register status updates through the CNN site. By 1:15 p.m. ET, Facebook had counted 600,000 status updates on this portal, according to Mediaweek.com.

"CNN's Facebook connect was true social media — it allowed people to comment live during a live event,"  Caroline Dangson, an analyst at market researcher IDC, told CBC News.

User interactivity is becoming a key component in how people consume media online, said Bradley Shende, CEO of Media2o Productions, a Canadian company specializing in broadcast and online video production.

Video streaming "has been growing huge in the consumer space," Shende told CBC News. "The more [people] consume, the more they become participants." User-generated sites like YouTube.com have resulted in the "democratization of media," he said.

Video is becoming the prevalent web format, said Shende, adding that while other features may attract people to a site, it is video that keeps them there.

Akamai Technologies, a Massachusetts-based company that provides video streaming capabilities to a number of prominent media companies, including the New York Times, reported 7.7 million simultaneous stream views worldwide on Tuesday, a new company record.

In comparison, Akamai's busiest video streaming day in December saw around 1.6 million simultaneous views, spokesperson Jeff Young told CBC News.

Consumption 'going up every year'

Internet users have increasingly flocked to streaming videos in their pursuit of the news, Young said. "We've seen trends where the consumption of video is going up every year," he said, adding that people are also watching streams for longer chunks at a time.

By the numbers

  • Akamai Technologies reported 7.7 million viewers watched web streams simultaneously on inauguration day.
  • The web-tracking company Keynote Systems Inc. said traffic for the top 40 websites slowed by as much as 60 per cent as the inauguration ceremony began.
  • Between 6 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, CNN.com delivered 21.3 million live streams.
  • CBC.ca delivered 96,000 video stream views on inauguration day, four times the number provided on Oct. 14, the date of Canada's federal election.

Young believes people will revert increasingly to streamed video for breaking news. When the U.S. Airways Flight 1549 crashed into the Hudson river in New York last week, his company reported a big leap in video streaming numbers.

"We're finding that any event that's live during day hours creates that perfect storm where people are at work on their computers," he said, noting that streaming numbers decrease during weekends when people are at home.

"I think people realized that they [had] access to this in ways beyond television and traditional media," Dangson said, speaking specifically of the Obama inauguration. Like Young, she noted that lots of viewers were at work during the inauguration and couldn't turn to television.

"Our survey data shows consumers spend more time on the internet than all other media combined," she said. But although people are spending more time online, they're not necessarily decreasing their consumption of television, she said.

Young also cautions against reading too much into Tuesday's numbers. The inauguration shouldn't be regarded as a moment where video streaming reached critical mass that will see people flock to online video en masse, he said. But video stream usage should continue to grow at projected rates, he said. He could not provide any specifics.

"I think the event was a bit of anomaly," he said. "I think it'll be some time before we see an event of that magnitude."

Canadian numbers more modest

While American media reported strong streaming results on Tuesday, the response wasn't nearly as robust in Canada.

CBCnews.ca reported more than 96,000 video stream views on Tuesday. That number is about four times higher than the streaming numbers on Oct. 14, the date of the Canadian federal election.

Yet it represents just half the number of video views during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic games. That may be because the opening ceremonies were broadcast exclusively on CBC, whereas the inauguration could be picked up from a number of sites, said Greg Dinsmore, research analyst at CBC.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Rogers Communications in Toronto said the events in Washington did not lead to an increase in internet traffic on Tuesday. In fact, traffic was below the normal Tuesday peak for that time of day — suggesting that more people may have been watching the ceremony on television rather than surfing the net.