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Millions of people watched the Inauguration online -- one content provider said that they had a peak of 7.7 million viewers of streaming content alone during the Big Day. Making it hard to get a real count is the fact that video from the inauguration ceremony and surrounding events was streamed all over the Web. Sites such as Hulu and Ustream were busy along with the sites of major news outlets.
And it was far from perfect.
CNN.com, one of the most popular viewing destinations, had to cut off viewers and establish a wait list. It's like queuing up to peer in the peephole for the old kinescope.
I'm personally really surprised that CNN, of all the news outlets, had to resort to rationing bandwidth. We're in the era of huge data pipes and cloud computing. We certainly have learned a lot over the years about distributed processing from tools like the SETI desktop (search for intelligent life while not using your computer) to better file sharing systems like BitTorrent (I've been known to download movies in a fraction of the time it takes to view them).
But, even with the hitches, I believe the future of television is broadcast over broadband. It's just too damn convenient and ubiquitous -- I have more computer screens than I have televisions screens both at home and work, and the TV screens double as computer screens. On my recent trip to DC, I watched streaming movies from Netflix over my AT&T Air Card (cell modem) on my laptop and I never turned on the TV itself.
We need to get better tools for pausing and rewinding in the stream; information, even live information, needs to be digested. The moment is never "gone" in the era of constant recording, and computer broadcasting offers us a lot more ways to interact with the information.
I wonder, though, if January 20th, 2009 will be remembered for being the day the first black president took office, or for the day online broadcasting really came to life.