SAN FRANCISCO — Forget Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. It's Facebook versus Twitter in a social media showdown to win the election cycle.
The two companies are competing head-to-head for live video viewership, each clinching deals to stream all three hotly anticipated presidential debates and the vice presidential debate for free. Their goal: to get people to turn off their televisions and talk while they watch the debates on social media.
Twitter said Wednesday that it had formed a partnership with Bloomberg in which the three presidential debates and the vice presidential debate will stream on the service, much like the NFL's Thursday Night Football Games.
Facebook announced a partnership on Tuesday with ABC to stream the debates and the vice presidential debate. The first presidential debate is Monday at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.
Social media has exploded in the past four years, with more people than ever turning to their phones to react to the latest developments in the presidential race.
While Twitter's appeal has lagged with mainstream America, Facebook has leaped ahead.
Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey is the contest's underdog, trying to reverse slowing user growth by focusing on the service's knack for delivering "live" news and events.
Twitter also streamed the Democratic and Republican conventions through a deal with CBS. The first major test of Twitter's ability to draw in viewers came last Thursday when 2.1 million people tuned into the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets.
Dorsey is squaring off against a formidable rival in Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, who launched Facebook Live earlier this year to persuade Facebook users to log into the service more often and stay longer. The video-streaming service is a cornerstone of the giant social network's new "video first" strategy. Facebook predicts video will soon consume the lion's share of attention of its 1.7 billion users. And it's making aggressive moves to get people to make and view more video.
Both companies are pursuing the same pot of gold: television advertising budgets, which are larger than the ones allocated to social media and digital.
"Given that Facebook’s audience is vastly larger, it has a huge advantage here over Twitter," said Jan Dawson, chief analyst with Jackdaw Research.