Donald Trump’s campaign went live on Facebook on Monday night in what will be the first of two weeks of live shows to encourage supporters.
At times the campaign conflated the election ad with an actual newscast. Trump’s Facebook page called it “nightly campaign coverage from Trump Tower!”
Observers immediately wondered if it was a prototype of a theoretical post-election “Trump TV” network. The Trump campaign denied that.
“Welcome in to Trump Tower live,” Trump senior adviser Cliff Sims said at the start of the webcast.
“We’re excited to be bypassing the left-wing media,” his colleague Boris Epshteyn said.
The stream averaged 40,000 to 60,000 viewers on Facebook in the first half hour — which is high by Facebook Live standards but very low by TV ratings standards.
The live stream featured Epshteyn and Sims interviewing Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, who told viewers, “This race is not over… Let me just say unequivocally: We will win.”
After a break to reset the live stream, Epshteyn and Sims tossed to Tomi Lahren of Glenn Beck’s The Blaze network, who delivered a monologue about the importance of “making America great again.”
The webcast doubled as a fundraiser for the Trump campaign, with a prominent link and on-screen banner to a donation page.
It was scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. Eastern, the same time as the broadcast networks nightly newscasts.
Sims said the live pro-Trump chat would lead into Trump’s prime time rallies, which would also be shown live on Trump’s Facebook page each evening.
The hosts used television lingo, with Sims referring to “later episodes” featuring members of Trump’s family, and common social media strategies, with Epshteyn asking Facebook viewers to share the live stream with their friends.
Monday’s stream was an extension of what the campaign did last week, showing a pre-game and post-game debate show on Trump’s Facebook page.
The campaign partnered with a conservative live-streaming site called Right Side Broadcasting to pull it off.
The stream generated tons of press the next day, with some stories asking, “Did Trump TV launch last night?”
Both last Wednesday and again on Monday, the show looked like a no-frills version of a cable news channel — albeit a version that was pro-Trump through and through.
Media experts and politicos have been abuzz about the prospect of “Trump TV” — a post-election network aimed at Trump fans — for months. Every time Trump plays to his base at the expense of appealing to swing voters, observers wonder if he’s really just stoking the passions of his future paying audience.
Steve Bannon, the Breitbart News chairman who became the Trump campaign CEO in August, did not deny that there’s been talk about a possible network when asked by CNNMoney last week. He responded to the rumors with a smile and said, “Trump is an entrepreneur.” He also pointed out Trump’s social media prowess on Facebook and Twitter, saying, “Look at the engagement. It’s incredible.”
The Trump campaign’s use of news terminology — “nightly campaign coverage,” his Facebook page said on Monday — may make some journalists uncomfortable. Then again, Trump has been running an anti-media campaign from the get-go, and his attacks on the press have increased in severity recently.
In an interview with Wired magazine, Trump’s digital director Brad Parscale was clear that the nightly live streams are not intended to be actual newscasts.
“It’s an extension of our ad programs and our social media posts. The only difference is we’re going to broadcast it live,” he said.
The Clinton campaign has also used social media to promote news-like programming. The campaign has an “official podcast,” called “With her,” featuring Clinton family members and campaign staffers.