President Obama promised transparency in the bipartisan health care huddle at Blair House, and one open government group is doubling down on the offer.
The Sunlight Foundation, a webby, nonpartisan transparency organization, announced it will route around the traditional media to provide its own interactive broadcast of the proceedings, with information that many TV channels can't (or won't) share. Jake Brewer, the group's engagement director, says that as each politician speaks, Sunlight's website will compliment video footage with "campaign contributions that the person speaking has received, their connections to lobbyists and industry, personal finances, and key votes that the leaders have made on health care in the past." Like C-SPAN meets Common Cause.
Beyond the bird-dogging, the effort also simply provides a wired hub for people to communicate about the proceedings in real time, since it fuses blogging and Twitter conversation with the video feed. That picks up on a trend that goes well beyond politics. As the Times' Brian Stelter reported on Wednesday, social media networks like Twitter are becoming the new place for people in different places to watch televised events together. About 14 percent of people watching this year's Super Bowl were simultaneously online, and industry experts think social media is improving ratings:
NBC says it thinks the habits of people [watching and using social media] partly explain why the ratings for the Olympics are up noticeably. "People want to have something to share," Alan Wurtzel, the head of research for NBC Universal, said from Vancouver. He said the effects of online conversations were "important for all big event programming, and also, honestly, for all of television going forward." If viewers cannot be in the same room, the next best thing is a chat room or something like it.
That's what MTV found last fall during the Video Music Awards: the Twitterati were in a tizzy when Kanye West snatched a microphone from Taylor Swift in the middle of her acceptance speech. The show had an average of nine million viewers, its best performance in six years. The Recording Academy, which presents the Grammys, mounted a digital campaign to promote the awards show this year ... the academy's vice president for digital media said it was not a coincidence that the awards show notched a 35 percent gain over last year's audience totals.
For entertainment companies, of course, ratings are the whole point. Obama needs to turn Thursday's audience into supporters.