How Web Video Nationalizes Local Primary Campaigns and Raises the Value of Oration

Let’s take a moment in this busy political week to marvel at the wonders of web video. It is simply amazing what this nascent medium has done to change the presidential campaign less than 18 months after the debut of the shaky “Macacca” video.

Think about it for a minute. Before this cycle any of the 300 million Americans who wanted to hear the victory (or concession) speeches coming out of early primary states would have to hope to catch a significant snippet on the broadcast or cable news channels or try to randomly come across it on late-night CSPAN. Or they could read about what David Broder or some pundit who was present at the speech thought about it the next day in the newspaper.

These days when the polls close in South Carolina, anyone from any corner of America (let alone the world) can immediately watch the entire Obama speech, unfiltered, unedited, almost as soon as he gives it. Not only that, but that viewer in, say, California, can then send the link to that video to 30 of her friends and family, and half of them might watch it the next day, and then send the link to their network too.

We’re really only now digesting what that capability does to politics. For one, it nationalizes what once was a very localized event – candidate speeches. A good speech is not just for the consumption of the 1000 people crammed into a hotel ballroom or school gym somewhere in the heartland of America. The speech is open for all the country and all the world to see.

And it isn’t just primary victory speeches – it’s endorsement speeches or whatever else the campaign wants to put out there. Obama had well-packaged versions of the Kennedy endorsements and Obama’s response on the campaign website shortly after they delivered them. People hear some television anchor talk about the endorsement or about Teddy’s passion, and they leave the tube and pull it up on their computer for full viewing.

This is not just happening with journalists and political junkies, but with average Americans. Out here in California, I am getting barraged with links to web video in on online version of the old office water cooler. “Did you see that last night?”

One consequence of this is that average people are almost impulsively giving money to campaigns. They see a passionate speech and in the heat of that moment they click on the button right next to the video that says: “Donate here.” The Washington Post blog reported that just after the Obama speech in South Carolina, the website was processing campaign donations at the rate of $500,000 an hour. I just got off a media conference call with Obama Campaign manager David Plouffe and he said they have raised $5 million online in the two days since South Carolina.

The gap between the spark of passion about a candidate to the moment you can cross the line and give money to a campaign has shrunk to seconds. How long would it have taken you to span that gap just a couple cycles ago, back in the ancient days of the 1990s?

Another consequence of this web video development is that the dying art of political oration might be making a comeback. The political ecosystem of the second half of the 20th century did little to reward great orators like America has seen throughout its history. In that broadcast TV world it was much more important for you to package your message into 30 second sound bites.

But in the new world of web video, where length does not matter because 30 seconds costs the same as 30 minutes, your ability to connect with an audience and hold their attention is a huge asset.

I think that is partly why Obama has been faring so well in this environment (and why I have been focusing on him rather than other candidates in this post). Obama clearly has no peers when it comes to speaking ability. And his campaign has been the most adroit on using the new medium of web video. The Clinton campaign has done a solid job with keeping up with the basic web video capability, but Hillary does not have the same flair for speaking.

There’s been a lot of talk about old and new politics. Set aside what that means about policies, etc., and which candidate best embodies it. Clearly one piece of the new politics has to do with using the new tools, and the first among equals in that lineup is web video.

Just pinch yourself and remember that this web video phenomenon, and all its consequences, has only just begun….

Peter Leyden

Director of the New Politics Institute