In YouTube Clips, a Political Edge
Monday, July 10, 2006
It starts off like a typical negative ad, with swelling music and pictures of John McCain: "Flip-Flopper? Yes. Waffler? Yes."
But then the Internet spot takes a strange turn: "Eh, whatever. He should still be president," the graphics say. "John McCain 2008. He's Not Hillary."
This is one of the 60,000 videos added each day to YouTube.com, a shoot-it-yourself Web site that has exploded in popularity over the past year. And while many of the most widely viewed videos are merely intended to entertain or titillate -- rants, parodies, pet tricks, soccer brawls, singing, dancing and booty shaking -- company executives say politics is on the rise.
The site's sixth most popular group -- as measured by the number of people who click to subscribe -- is titled "Bush Sucks," with 2,018 members and 741 videos. Also near the top is "Nedheads," with 841 members signing on to a group created by activists backing Ned Lamont in his Democratic primary race against Sen. Joe Lieberman in Connecticut.
While bloggers played a role in the last presidential election, most advertising and message delivery still comes from campaigns, political parties and interest groups with enough money to bankroll a television blitz. But the YouTube revolution -- which includes dozens of sites such as Google Video, Revver.com and Metacafe.com -- could turn that on its head.
If any teenager can put up a video for or against a candidate, and persuade other people to watch that video, the center of gravity could shift to masses of people with camcorders and passable computer skills. And if people increasingly distrust the mainstream media, they might be more receptive to messages created by ordinary folks.
"YouTube is a campaign game-changer, shifting the dynamics of how to reach voters and build intimate relationships," says Julie Supan, senior marketing director for the small, California-based firm, which by one measure now runs the 39th most popular Web site. "YouTube levels the playing field, allowing well-backed and less-known candidates to reach the same audience and share the same stage."
Even the seemingly simple act of posting footage of a politician's interview on "Meet the Press" or "The Daily Show" has a viral quality, because it can be seen by far more people than watched during a single broadcast.
The 18-month-old site, which makes its revenue from banner ads, is free for viewers and contributors. The company says 80 million videos are viewed every day. Each video, group or page is placed in easily searchable categories, and those who subscribe to the groups are automatically notified of new content.
The networks are just starting to awaken to the power of these citizen video sites. After feuding with YouTube for illegally showing a clip from "Saturday Night Live" earlier this year, NBC realized the power of such online promotion and recently struck a deal with the site to publicize its fall lineup. Hollywood studios are interested as well.
Contributors to YouTube seem to lean to the left. There are videos of verbal stumbles labeled "Stupid Bush" and "Bush Screwups," along with "President Bush Drunk," a bit on CBS's "Late Late Show" that slowed down a tape of the president so it appeared as if he were slurring his words. Another shows Bush, in his Texas days, extending his middle finger. (One positive video features a group called the Right Brothers singing "Bush Was Right.")
Any registered user can form a group, and the site includes one called "Support George Bush," which says, "Don't be afraid of your beliefs -- most campuses nationwide have a liberal bias anyway . . . as does the media." But it doesn't crack the top 100 in terms of membership, unlike "Bush Sucks," which is designed "for everyone who hates Bush and all his Republican cronies."