Monday, January 22, 2007


Will Web Video Kill the Television Star?

Per my post yesterday on the state of online politics, the Washington Post has an interesting piece today looking at the high-profile use of Web video in the early stages of the 2008 presidential campaign by Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and others. Post reporter Dan Balz declares:
[I]f last year was the year of the rogue videographers, the already-underway 2008 presidential campaign is likely to be remembered as the point where Web video became central to the communications strategy of every serious presidential candidate. . .

Call it the YouTube effect, and it is only growing. The video-sharing site, which less than a year after its founding was bought by Google for $1.65 billion, has revolutionized the transfer of information via video, spawned a number of imitators and forced candidates to recalibrate choices, from their announcement strategies to their staffing decisions.

There's no doubt this trend has reached a tipping point in terms of campaign strategy and that Web video has become the shiny new toy of politics. "The ubiquity of it is so amazing," says Hillary Clinton's Internet strategist, Peter Daou, "the sky's the limit." The allure is indeed powerful -- Web video enables campaigns to reach politically-engaged citizens without the filter of the critical media and without the expense of paying for TV ads.

But what struck me most about the article was the relatively small numbers of peoples of the year (as Time magazine called you/us) who were actually watching these videos. For example, the video John Edwards released prefacing his campaign launch announcement event in New Orleans has been seen by 100,000 viewers. That's a healthy hunk of change, and a far greater audience than Edwards or other candidates would have reached four years ago at this time. But it is a pittance compared to the number of people who watched the ads on the Saints-Bears playoff game on Fox yesterday in New Orleans.

Which is to say, we are hardly at killer app stage yet, and my sense is we are a fairly long way away from realizing the transformative potential that Hillary's Internet strategist touted. The penetration of broadband and the use of Youtube and its competitors are indeed rapidly growing, but not at the pace that can change actuarial tables -- or the fact that the people most likely to vote (senior citizens) are least likely to watch video on the web. Nor can it magically erase voter apathy -- or the fact that watching television (and the ads on it) is a passive exercise, while it still takes an affirmative act to watch a web video, no matter how easy it has become.

I have no idea how long it will take to overcome these generational and situational hurdles -- I will be curious to hear the thoughts of the real experts on that question. But my sense is that a big key to it will be how quickly Baby Boomers adapt to this new technology and how many of them will take three minutes out of their day to watch the latest moving message from whatever politician that comes knocking at their virtual door.

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