Posts about uk

A visit with Webcameron in London

While in London, I went to the Conservative Party headquarters — new and sparkling white, with a view of the river just down from Parliament — to meet Sam Roake, who’s making his leader, David Cameron, a star of small TV. I wanted to hear his advice for the American candidates now dabbling in the TV of the people.

Roake is a personable, low-key, and smart chap in a suit with no tie, the uniform of our next leaders. He’s a veteran of Google AdWords. Yes, Google will take over the world. And then no one will wear ties.

2007, Roake says, is the year of video and social networking. He sees the two closely linked.

The web team — which so far is Roake and one colleague — have Cameron answer five questions a week from voters, three of them voted up by the public, Diggishly, and two he selects.

Then they have videos of him “out and about” anywhere in the world, talking to the camera with his thoughts and experiences. That happens about three times a week, but Roake said they’d do more with more resources — that is, one more staffer.

He says Cameron’s videos need little editing. Once they’re done, they go up on his site and on YouTube.

Roake argues that the videos enable their man to speak directly with voters and it helps them present their man in a candid, human way. “To be genuinely candid,” he says, “you have to talk about yourself as a person.” He says that to make this medium work, politicians have to switch “out of politician mode.”

The videos have been remixed and spoofed. But that hasn’t worked to the party’s disadvantage, Roake says. A labor MP made a parody of Cameron’s video and — I heard this tale from 18 Doughty Street‘s Iain Dale as well — it was so far off the mark (like a cringeworthy late-night skit), he had to apologize. The people from the show This is a Knife also made a parody called Blind Dave. And see the video by pioneer Parliamentary blogger Tom Watson tweaking Webcameron but wishing Labor had its equivalents:

Not having snit fits about all this apparently makes it look as if Conservatives have a sense of humor. They also want the videos to show that Conservatives are open and innovative. Roake says Labor isn’t doing this because they are “more focused on control.”

Roake acknowledges when I ask that it’s a bit different for the party in power. But then I ask whether they would continue their video strategy if they took power and he says they’d pretty much have to. “If it suddenly stopped, that would be seen as a very cynical move,” he says. The form would “evolve as the job evolves…. You can’t stop communicating.” This, Roake says, is a “new stage of politics” that is about a “sustained dialog with the public.” This was the kind of talk we heard from Gordon Brown about blogs at Davos. Once Brown ascends to power, I suspect they’ll be tripping over themselves to seem web-cool. As a head-of-state vlogger, Germany’s Angela Merkel already beat them all to the punch (though with a characteristic and militant lack of flair); she, too, is answering citizens’ questions online (here, auf Deutsch). Coming soon: Fireside vlogging. The White House Show with ___________.

But Roake emphasizes that vlogging isn’t the same as old TV though the American candidates are still treating it as if it were. They are broadcasting. The audience is different, he says, and the medium is different. His advice for our vlogging pols:

Don’t make the videos scripted and spun. Involve the voters: respond to them and address them by name. “See them as people who want to engage with you.” He says they need to be “personal, open, spontaneous.” Have someone with a camera along as much as possible to capture “off-the-cuff moments.” If you just have someone come 15 minutes a week to get one video, it won’t work. If you show events with lots of people, he says, balance that with more personal videos. Don’t sweat the production value.

Now, of course, it’s hard to believe that everything in politics isn’t always spun. Saying you’re not spinning is spin. But I take the point: don’t shrink-wrap the message and the candidate.

I ask why he thinks that the leaders in small TV in Europe tend to be conservative — Cameron, Sarkozy — while in the States, it’s the liberals who’ve taken the lead. Roake acknowledges that “a lot of it has to with being in opposition” and not immersed in the business of government (the podcasting, vlogging Merkel excepted). Then he spins just a bit: “The conservatives are less of a top-down government.”

Roake plans to help small TV spread in his party, getting more MPs to join the fun, joining a few leaders, including blogging Boris Johnson and vlogging Grant Shapps. He says that “any party serious about engaging in social media could do it.” And will.

(Crossposted from PrezVid)

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.

* * *

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.