At 18 Doughty Street

I was headed to visit Iain Dale, creator of 18 Doughty Street, the new internet channel of conservative (they try to sell it as “anti-establishment”) political chat shows in London. So I emailed asking him for an address: “18 Doughty Street,” came the answer. Doh. Silly American. It’s an old, Georgian townhouse taken over by this new-age network with a staff of 20 crammed into the front parlors and a studio in the back with seven cameras, two couches, one table, a bowl of flowers, and book cases with cutouts for a couple of the cameras.

On the video (which is long with bad quality, for which I apologize), I ask Dale about the YouTube election and what David Cameron is doing on small TV in the UK. He tells about Cameron making a video about “discovering your inner tosser” and his fears that this would insult the voters. But the target audience got it. He says Clinton’s Hillcasts are just pieces to camera; “she’s not interacting with people, she’s talking at them.” He says that Obama’s site is fresh; I say he’s not saying but Dale argues “you don’t have to say much; David Cameron didn’t say much” at the start of a campaign. “With Obama, it’s almost like a movement whereas with Hillary Clinton it doesn’t seem to be like that.” Dale would love Hillary to be the the Democrats’ candidate; he’s hardly alone among conservatives with that wish. He says that on the Republican side “none of them has got it.” But he argues that Mitt Romney “is getting what George Bush used to call the big mo.” I’d say it’s a very little mo.

Dale believes that Rudy Giuliani can use the internet to get over the objections of some in his party and he also cautions: “But the Republican Party has to be very careful not to repeat the mistakes of the Conservative Party in Britain, where we became so obsessed by one particular issue – Europe – and has meant we’ve been out of power for 10 years. Now if the Republican party goes down this road of obsessing about abortion, gun control, gay rights, those kinds of social issues, I fear for their future because if they’re taken over by these sort of more fundamental groupings you’re not going to have a coalition – and all politial parties are coalitions.”

He advises that candidates should not (like McCain) make their videos too slick. And if candidates have blogs, they should join in personally sometimes. “You’ve got to personalize it.” He says that each of the campaigns should have people following candidates around with cameras like mine and post what happens. He advises that candidates should use humor, acknowledging that “it’s dangerous sometimes… With declining voter turnout, sure everybody would agree that making politics fun is all part of it.” He says candidates should show that they are human, that they have houses and dogs and humor.

He says that Cameron, like Sarkozy, is promising to answer questions that are left on his site and voted up by the audience.

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On 18 Doughty Street, the network, Dale is making at least five hours of live TV a night, five nights a week from 7p to midnight and he’s about to expand into America with a deal to use the Arlington, Virginia, studios of the Leadership Institute, and an offer to use the Heritage Foundation’s satellites. So they will feature more American guests and will rebroadcast their shows so East-Coast Americans can watch from 7p-midnight local time. Dale is amazed — as am I — that no one has done this in America and if he weren’t busy in London, he’d make that American network. Someone surely will.

18 Doughty has nightly news updates, talk shows (one with bloggers), and hour-long interviews with politicians (even they are surprised they get to talk for so long). They are about to enable viewers — 100 of whom (including a deputy assistant secretary of state in the U.S.) were given video cameras — to upload pieces; the best will be aired each night. The network is getting 1-2,000 viewers at any one time during the live broadcasts plus more viewing the streams and 5-10-minute clips they put online. A huge audience? No. But as Dale says, blogs get disproportional attention in mainstream media and so do his shows. Their commercial asking what the world would be like without America (below) has had 250,000 views so far.

The channel is bankrolled entirely by Stephan Shakespeare of the polling company YouGov. He put up $2 million to fund it for a year and they’re not even trying to make money now. They have no revenue. He thinks it will likely always be supported by philanthropy and aims to be breakeven. I wonder whether such a show in election season in the U.S. couldn’t be profitable.

I asked Dale to figure out how much he’s spending per hour of TV. He figured a quarter of the money goes to bandwidth and the web site. So the $1.5 million that goes into programming produces it for roughly $140 per hour. That is incredibly low. Any executive of any network anywhere would kill for numbers like that.

They manage this because they do things in new ways. When they started, they had two TV pros who only made things difficult, telling them what they couldn’t do. So they got rid of the pros and now they’re making TV.