YouTube Gets Serious With Links To Candidates

YouTube captures Sen. Hillary Clinton's off-key
YouTube captures Sen. Hillary Clinton's off-key "Star-Spangled Banner." (Youtube)
By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 2, 2007

YouTube doesn't want to be just a goof-off destination anymore. It just went a little C-SPAN.

Yesterday, as part of what the video-sharing site described as a voter education initiative, it launched You Choose '08, where voters can find the official Web videos from Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, Barack Obama et al., all listed on one page. You know, the ones that the candidates want you to see, as opposed to the unofficial videos that are some of the most watched on the site.

Savvier by the minute to the power of video sharing and social networking to reach potential voters, most of the presidential candidates had put their videos on the site on their own "channels." Now YouTube has pulled them all together, free of charge. On You Choose '08, viewers are encouraged to post text comments and video responses and rate candidate-created videos.

"The more videos the candidates put up, the more effort they put into each video, the more they're going to get out of it," says Jordan Hoffner, YouTube's director of content partnerships. "It's like when Bill Clinton took full advantage of the rise of the 24-hour cable TV in 1992. It was great political theater. I foresee this being very similar."

In this kind of free-for-all, anything-goes Web environment -- where a video can be sliced up, posted, circulated on e-mails with a few clicks on a mouse -- controlling the message is every candidate's biggest challenge and dearest hope. Yes, candidates can speak directly to voters. Of course, voters can speak directly back.

On the unofficial political video hit parade, there's a two-minute clip of former senator John Edwards fixing his hair to the tune of "I Feel Pretty."

There's a 10-second clip of Sen. John McCain looking as if he's dozing off during the president's State of the Union address. ("He wasn't sleeping. He was reading the president's text," says Christian Ferry, McCain's online campaign director.)

And Sen. Clinton's off-key rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" is on full-throated display in a minute-long clip of a rally in Iowa. "O say, can you see . . . and the rockets' red glare . . . land of the free . . ."

That video, posted on Jan. 27, had been viewed 1,064,647 times as of 7:30 p.m. yesterday. By contrast, her most popular official video, "Road Map Out of Iraq," had been viewed 5,676 times.

"Hillary Clinton has no control over what someone [else] puts up on YouTube," says Adam Paul, an online strategist at ID Society Inc., an interactive design and marketing agency. "And this new feature is yet another way for the candidates to put their Web videos out there."

All of the presidential front-runners (Clinton, former New York mayor Giuliani), even the long shots (Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Sen. Joe Biden), maintain their own YouTube channels, filling them with clips from their own Web sites. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has the most videos posted: 25. "Romney on Iraq." "Romney on families part 1." "Romney on families part 2." Sen. Obama's channel is the most watched, with total views of nearly 50,000.

Edwards was the earliest YouTube adopter, creating a channel last March. And though McCain, whose Web site dedicates a big chunk of space to his videos, is a little late to the YouTube race (he signed up for a channel last Friday), he's the only candidate so far on, a new video-sharing site where users can download videos to their iPods.

Ferry says the goal is to post McCain's videos on as many user-generated social sites as possible -- on, MySpace and, of course, YouTube.

But Paul, the online strategist, has a warning: "Candidates have to remember that the more content they put out there, the more content there is for people to change and try to control."

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