As The Nation reported on Monday, Barack Obama was the only presidential candidate to tape a rebuttal to President Bush's State of the Union for YouTube. It's paying off.
By Tuesday afternoon, "Barack Obama's response to Bush's final State of the Union" was the most watched clip in the world, drawing a over 300,000 views in under 20 hours. The public has shown overwhelming and sustained interest in hearing from Obama directly. This is the third Obama video to shoot into YouTube's top three in the past 10 days -- past clips of naked celebrities and Scientology rants -- and the first video that was shot specifically for web viewers, rather than broadcasting documentary footage of a speech.
The Obama Campaign drives traffic by blasting video links to committed supporters, who then share clips with their social networks. About 40 percent of the new video's viewers came through the campaign website, for example, while Obama's official YouTube channel has another 20,000 subscribers. Then hundreds of thousands of other viewers still pour in from YouTube and across the Internet. (About one out of every hundred viewers of this video came from a blog entry by Miguel Antonio Guzmán. Another chunk of viewers for the Ted Kennedy endorsement video came from Hillary Clinton's backyard, through a Columbia Alumni magazine website.) Meanwhile, Obama's YouTube channel, which hosts over 500 clips, has drawn a whopping 11.5 million views so far. Clinton's channel has drawn about one tenth the views (1.3 million), while Edwards has not even broken into six digits.
The traditional media has been slow to grasp Obama's YouTube surge. (There has not been a single article in a major newspaper about the new records in the last 10 days.) YouTube politics are largely covered for gaffes (Macaca) and attacks (1984 ad). But the press is starting to notice the flipside of the Obama Campaign's communication strategy. It's the part that affects them. As the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz reports in a new article:
In an age of all-out political warfare, the Obama campaign is a bit of an odd duck: It is not obsessed with winning each news cycle. [Obama] remains a remote figure to those covering him, and his team, while competent and professional, makes only spotty attempts to drive its preferred story lines in the press... Obama often goes days without taking questions from national reporters... Some reporters say Obama seems disdainful toward journalists, having submitted to precisely one off-the-record chat over beer several months ago in Iowa. To them, the absence of a senior official traveling with the press is a sign of benign neglect.... Newsweek correspondent Richard Wolffe [adds] "The contact is limited. . . . They see the national media more as a logistical problem than a channel for getting stuff out."
So reporters are noticing that Obama is not using them to get stuff out. As a presidential candidate, of course, he is getting tons of stuff out. But whenever possible, he is routing around the filters and gatekeepers so that he can speak directly to voters.
It is a classic disintermediation approach.
The campaign events, speeches and clips are targeted to reach the voting public and bypass media framing. Kurtz describes how a Times reporter finally confronted Obama on a recent trip with a question -- about whether Bill Clinton was getting "inside his head." It's the kind of vapid media framing that annoys candidates and voters alike. And apparently, many people would rather hear Obama speak substantively in response to the State of the Union than hear him take strategy questions. There is a potential downside here, of course. The media does not usually like being disintermediated.