CLEVELAND, Ohio (KTVU) - We sat outside at a small bistro table as people nearby chatted and laughed. Food was being passed around and I’m pretty sure music was playing. Clear globe lights hung from the bar. The mood was good. People were happy.
No, I wasn’t at a trendy café or even a wedding reception – I was at the Facebook media headquarters at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Facebook has a knack for making things cool, even politics.
I sat down on Tuesday with Katie Harbath, the global politics and government outreach director at Facebook and the woman who helped change how Facebook covers political conventions.
“I’ve been planning it for four years,” she laughed. “Most of the people here have probably heard me talk about what I want to do at the convention.”
What’s impressive about the Facebook site at the Quicken Loans Arena isn’t the swag or the video boards, but the live studios on the second floor. Facebook loves video and absolutely loves live streaming. During my visit, the team was getting ready for Marsha Blackburn, a U.S. Congresswoman from Tennessee who was arriving to do an interview. Moments later Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich showed up and answered questions live on his Facebook page.
Live from Facebook Central at the GOP Convention answering questions about Day 1 of #RNCinCLE.Posted by Newt Gingrich on Tuesday, July 19, 2016
“It’s really giving people this opportunity to experience events like conventions where most people don’t get to go,” Harbath said about Facebook’s live streaming capabilities.
And it’s also becoming a big business for Facebook. Last month the Wall Street Journal reported Facebook had signed contracts with nearly 140 media companies and celebrities to go live on their streaming service.
Those same media companies and celebrities will be using the Facebook live studio at the RNC this week and again at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
It’s a partnership that gives Facebook a platform to increase its advertising revenue and gives media companies access to Facebook’s 1.23 billion users.
At the Republican Convention four years ago in Florida, it would have been hard to imagine celebrities and news makers lining up to go live at Facebook. At the Tampa Bay Times Forum, Facebook occupied a 10x10 foot space at the back of the convention center.
“Back then we had photo booths around the Times Forum and we were helping people take pictures and share their experience on Facebook,” said Harbath.
This year alone, 89 million people on Facebook have liked, posted, shared or commented on news related to the election, according to statistics provided by the company.
In the first 24 hours of the Republican Convention, 8.5 million Facebook users were talking about the convention and the candidates.
When I asked how that compared to other big events, like the Super Bowl, Harbath practically laughed.
“It’s way bigger than the Super Bowl.”
That’s right, on Facebook more people are talking about politics than football.
It’s something that Harbath is happy to be a part of.
“Conventions are a time where a diverse group of people come together in one spot and I’m just so pleased that the space we created is doing exactly what we wanted to do which was to inspire them to go live and share their experiences with all the people who can’t be here in person.”