Posts about youtubecampaign

Guardian column: Webcameron & 18 Doughty St.

Here’s my latest Guardian column, a buffed-up version of posts I wrote for Prezvid about Webcameron, 18 Doughty Street, and Nicolas Sarkozy and the conservative movement in small TV in the UK. (Nonregistration version here.)

In a video response to Webcameron, David Cameron’s new-age network of tiny TV, pioneering parliamentary blogger Tom Watson wondered why his fellow liberals don’t have an internet channel of their own. Why, indeed? While in the US, it’s the Democratic presidential candidates who are invading YouTube, in Europe, conservatives are leading with their lenses: Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy in France show their candid sides and answer voters’ questions via video. Even German chancellor Angela Merkel, hardly a LonelyGirl15, is podcasting and vlogging. And at 18 Doughty Street, UK conservatives have their own internet talk-show network. Is the internet providing the European right with its Fox News?

While in London, I visited the eponymously addressed 18 Doughty Street, a Georgian townhouse where founder Iain Dale and a staff of 20 produce five hours of live talk TV a night from a studio equipped with seven cameras and an expansive couch. Their programming day starts at 7pm with news summaries, interviews with politicians, and talk shows about politics, the arts and blogs. Because it is live, it is interactive; viewers can send in messages and join the chat. Next viewers will send in videos; Dale gave 100 cameras to contributors who’ll make a show of shows, a bit like a multimedia Comment is Free. And soon, they’ll expand to America with a rented studio and satellite time.

The audience is not yet huge – one to 2,000 viewers at any moment (more than 2,500, Dale says, and their technology would teeter). But he’s getting the audience he wants, including big media. And he drew a quite large crowd, more than 250,000, watching a commercial message they distributed on YouTube that asked us to “imagine a world without America”.

All this comes at an astoundingly low price. Factual programming on US and UK networks costs about £150,000 per hour. A US network executive recently bragged that his digital studio had reduced his cost to £500 a minute. Dale runs the network with a one-year, £1m investment from YouGov founder Stephan Shakespeare and I asked him to estimate his production cost. Subtracting bandwidth and internet, he calculated £70 per hour. So expect more talk online, much more.

Next, I visited Sam Roake, head of Cameron’s web strategy, to learn about Webcameron. Roake sees this as an opportunity to interact. Each week, the team follows Cameron out and about, and get him to answer five citizens’ questions, three of them voted on, Idol-like, by the audience. “To be genuinely candid,” Roake says, “you have to talk about yourself as a person.” Politicians, he advises, must switch “out of politician mode”. I ask whether Cameron would take his web camera to No 10 with him. “If it suddenly stopped,” Roake answers, “that would be seen as a very cynical move . . . You can’t stop communicating.”

This, he argues, is “a new stage of politics” that is about “sustained dialogue with the public.” Note that this is similar to the rhetoric about blogging I heard from Gordon Brown at Davos: “You cannot make political decisions now without people being included in the decision,” he said. “The age of the smoke-filled room is over.”

I asked Roake to give advice to the American presidential candidates now making small TV and he said they must not see this as broadcast TV. They should respond to voters by name: “See them as people who want to engage with you.” He recommends being “personal, open, spontaneous”. But most of all, he said, don’t script and spin your videos.

When I wrote this on PrezVid, my video blog that follows the US 2008 campaign through web video, Watson’s web producer Tim Ireland chimed in, saying that “Cameron’s early broadcasts were very much scripted affairs” and calling his family setting “window dressing”. It was that setting that Labour MP Sion Simon spoofed in a YouTube video that fell flat, forcing Simon to apologise and giving Webcameron more publicity. All politics is spin. Saying you don’t spin is, after all, spin.

I emailed Ireland to ask him the question I posed above: why are conservatives leading in small TV in the UK? He responded with four words: “Blair, money, timing and spin.” And then he added a fifth: Iraq. Yes, that might explain why Labour pols in the UK and Republicans in the US are rather camera-shy these days. But this, too, will change.

Online Politics: Web teams

I’m at the Online Politics confab in D.C. The first panel was about software and services and campaigns. Not my shtick. Now there’s a panel about building a web team with Joe Trippi, Jerome Armstrong of MyDD, Patrick Ruffini (now with Giuliani), Chuck DeFeo of, and Chuck Todd as moderator. Much talk about the YouTube campaign. Sporadic liveblogging:

Ruffini says that the ’08 campaign is making big progress in “leading with the web” with announcements — that is, all their YouTube videos. He suggests making big events offline big events online. Todd says he’s impressed with Mitt TV and asks DeFeo to critique it. DeFeo says that what the Romney campaign is doing with online video is very smart. He recalls the macaca moment and the dead-in-the-water Allen campaign. When Macaca happened, he asks rhetorically, “What should they have done? They should have flooded the zone.” That is, when people came in and searched “macaca,” they should have found a lot of videos from the campaign. “Instead, they left the platform open for that macaca moment.” In contrast, the Romney campaign responded to a critical video with video of its own.

Trippi, asked what he thinks of Hillcasts and such, recalls doing Dean TV 24/7. “The significant difference is the authenticity of what we put up vs. what they’re doing now… My big complaint with Mitt TV, Hillscasts, etc, is that it’s scripted.” He recalls a moment in Iowa — a story I’ve heard before — when a student told Dean that he was skipping a final to see the candidate but the candidate switched to dad mode and insisted that the kid go take his test. It made great and authentic video, Trippi says, and he marks it as a significant moment in the campaign online.

Would you videotape every moment? “Absolutely,” says Tripp. He mentions the cost of travel but he wants two kids with cams following the candidate. Ruffini says recording everything is “a smart idea and it’s a way of innoculating against” the gaffe.

Trippi: “Every one of these candidates is going to get caught in a macaca moment.” They’re going to walk into a fundraiser thinking it’s off-the-record and say something. Todd remembers Bill Clinton saying that he made a mistake raising taxes so much and that these days, could end up on YouTube (though he then speculates that that might have raised Clinton’s approval rating by 20 points).

Armstrong said he had someone following Warner all the time. The candidates need to get over an awkwardness that comes with this. “They think when the camera goes on, they’re live to 300,000 to a million people. They’re not used to having the conversation one on one.” He says it is also demanding of resources: a shooter, an editor, a communications person to approve what goes up. DeFeo reminds him that Mac editing is damned cheap and anyone can do it. (See, again, the David Cameron operation in London with two people.)

Trippi says all the video that that came in went up automatically unless someone was running naked across the screen or there was hate speech. They didn’t put the usual filters across it.

Armstrong says all this will eventually make the candidates better.

DeFeo says that there have been video trackers around campaigns for 20 years but they never saw that tape; it ended up on the cutting-room floor outside a focus-group room. “With YouTube you have a giant focus group and you can just put it up.” And see what sticks. Ruffini says the old days of campaigns were about controlling message. Now it’s about putting it out there and, again, seeing what sticks.

Todd says, by way of example, that the owner of the Washington Redskins has hired its own journalists. “In the sports world, this has become a very accepted thing.” He asks how close we are to campaigns to hiring their own journalists on staff — not press staff but journalists. Trippi says he knows of one campaign that’s about to do that, hiring a journalist to disseminate their story. So it’s not a press release. It goes up on GoogleNews or on YouTube as a video news story. Todd says he knows of another that plans to do that. Campaigns, he said, are starting to see that they don’t mean mainstream media as much as MSM needs them.

Armstrong points to the video announcements online, “very controlled, very scripted, without a reporter in the room.” It’s a way around MSM.

Todd asks: “Bloggers, hire them or co-opt them?” Of course, he raises the story of the Edwards’ campaign’s controversial bloggers. Ruffini says that campaign blogging is different from “regular political blogging.” He says you can’t necessarily transfer the success of blogging to campaign blogging. He says the technology world has evolved into a better model — e.g., Scoble when he was in Microsoft with is own blog and voice but still part of the company and transparent about their biases. He says that if you take a successful blogger and put them on a campaign web site, “you’re going to lose some element of credibility…. Where does the campaign stop and the blogger begin?”

Armstrong — who has been in both positions — says it’s a fluid situation and he has changed his position. He says it is difficult to go from the blogosphere to a campaign. He mostly hires bloggers “who have no history.” He says a blogger with history can’t adapt that voice to a campaign. He says that Trippi hired that way: Zephyr Teachout was not a blogger; they hired Jerome not to blog. Trippi argues that, like campaign workers, bloggers for candidates can switch candidates and thus stands on issues. “There has to be some give there at some point.” That has been my argument about the fading lines in this world: Your audience (public, community…) has to know where you’re coming from: Are you a journalist, an advocate for a candidate, an advocate for an issue; what’s your priority? Tripp agrees that really established bloggers won’t work in campaigns.

Todd says that the Democratic web and blog strategy is ahead; DeFeo disagrees with that perception and says the conservative web is made up of more individuals while the liberal web is built up around larger, “top-down” sites like Kos and Talking Points Memo. Armstrong disagrees in turn and says there is much action on the left locally. DeFeo disagrees in turn and points to Town Hall’s local blogs. Catfight. Catfight.

Trippi says that in the last election, the Democratic campaigns had different needs than the Republicans. Start with money. He says we’ll see “a big maturing thing happening this cycle.” He says that if Hillary gave a good speech, “the Daily Kos is just not a good place to go say that, it’s not comfortable.” So, he argues, that the people who like Hillary will create their own Kos. “I think you’ll see a broadening of the progressive side with more blogs.” (See my column about the political nature of the internet and the ability for people of similar views to find each other and coalesce.) Todd equates Rush and Kos as spokesman for their ends, driving message.

There’s talk about mobile and games and other new stuff. One panelist says there’s a cost-benefit analysis a campaign has to do. Trippi says that the Dean campaign just asked its fans to make those things themselves. That is the right way to think. Open.

Henry Copeland of Blogads asks the panel to speculate what the technology and moment and person will be that changes politics in this campaign. Armstrong says that someone will become the Walter Cronkite of online, mashing up video with a voice. Trippi says that money will explode; within weeks hundreds of millions of dollars will come in from people. “It totally changes the entire game, the big money, the PACs don’t matter anymore… It’s gonna be like a flood.” DeFeo agrees that the volume of contributors will explode. He says that we are still waiting for that moment to arrive when we declare that the internet has dethroned television in campaigns. He believes that this will actually be a series of moments that add up. Ruffini says that online video is meeting a new meet; in the last campaign, you had to be a big guy to post an online video. No more.

Earlier: It’s interesting seeing this from the other end of the pipe. I’m used to looking at this from the media end; they’re looking at it from the spin end. Ruffini says the online campaign has to be integrated into all parts of the campaign. (Same message we’re hearing in media today.) Trippi agrees that there shouldn’t be a wall. At the Dean campaign, he said, the web team was right outside his office so if you wanted to get to him, you had to go through them. (Maybe editors should surround themselves with web folk.) Trippi raises questions about the Clinton campaign using a letter signed by Madeleine Albright for fundraising and wonders how that decision was made. Armstrong says that too often, material raised for the offline campaign is merely repurposed rather than rethought for online. (Yet another media parallel.) DeFeo says that campaigns are bad R&D environments.

(Crossposted at PrezVid.)

Join the panel

Tomorrow at the Politics Online conference in Washington, I’m moderating a panel with Jay Rosen, Jim Brady of, and David Plotz of Slate, on the changes in media in campaigns today. Here are some of my talking points. Please add yours:

* Is it possible to break out of the old media campaign narrative of races, fights, spin, stereotypes? How?
* Political reporting is often not really reporting. It’s about repetition, rumors, spin, opinion, handicapping, predicting, leaking. So the relationship of MSM and blogger/amateur/citizen (whatever we are today) is different. We, the people, can do much of what they, the reporters do. So who should be doing what?
* There’s a new relationship between candidates and citizens. What can it be?
* Can campaigns be conversations?
* Can we question candidates in new ways?
* Can we take over more in the operation of campaigns?
* Candidates have no ways to route around reporters and editors to citizens. What’s good and what’s bad about that?
* Will we end up with more or less spin? Do these new media offer more ways to issue spin or to cut through it?
* What is our new relationship as voters with candidates?
* Is it better that we will see more of the candidates — through their lenses and ours?
* Let’s discuss the danger of the gotcha moment, henceforth known as the macaca moment. Do we need to be more forgiving of gaffes when we hear more? If we want the candidates to be more human do we need to accept their human falliblity?
* What new reporting can we accomplish now with pro/am effort? What new information do we need?
* Can we drive new ways to cover campaigns? What should they be?
* Can we escape the duotone red/blue stereotype and narrative through listening to the subtler views of more people?
* What might the impact on campaign advertising be when we can all see the worst of the ads on YouTube? Better through shame? Or worse through free distribution?
* What will the impact of citizen-made commercials be?
* Discuss US vs European and left vs right experience so far with YouTube.
* What advice do we have for the candidates? How should they be using these new media and how should that affect their campaigns and relationships with us?
* What advice do we have for bloggers, vloggers, et al. What should they be concentrating on?
* What advice do we have for MSM press? How can they do their jobs better?
* Will this this new, open media have a profound impact on campaigning? Write the analysis story a decade from now.
* Can and should candidates carry on this new communication while in office? Will the next President vlog?

(Crossposted at PrezVid)

PrezVid show: Advice for Obama

Some simple PrezVid advice for Barack Obama: Say something. (Crossposted 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.