Analysis: YouTube becomes a popular spot along the campaign trail


Chicago (IL) - As politicians strive to look for ways to combat new revelations like Tivo-powered commercial-skipping and the continuing transition to on-demand online video, the 2006 midterm elections have made an unlikely strong presence on a new platform - YouTube. The video sharing site now has what could lead to a vital role in the upcoming round of elections.

YouTube has had a phenomenal run that recently climax in a $1.6 billion sale of the property to Google. And while some questioned that Google was nuts to spend that kind of money for a company that is not even two years old, the implications of possible future impacts of YouTube and the way we consume information could mean that Google got the site for a bargain basement price.

The enormous reach of the site does not only make it a convenient platform, but also an interesting tool to purposely spread specific entertainment and information. The site is slowly but sureley evolving from a toy to a serious commercial vehicle, shown for example by the fact that some U.S. content providers are warming up to YouTube. Even more interesting, there are first signs that politicians have discovere dthe value of the platform.

As the first major election since YouTube's creation last year, the free online video platform of course appears to be a wise choice for candidates to try to gain more exposure for themselves. There are several reasons why it has become so popular for many candidates, from local office to Congressional campaigns.

Unlike most other advertising mediums, a video on YouTube is available to view anytime, anywhere. This provides users with a significant resource to double-check ads they saw on TV, find other commercials from the same candidate, and if applicable, compare TV ads from two opposing candidates. Also, unlike conventional ads, videos posted on YouTube have two-way communication between the video originator and the individual users. Users can post public comments and feedback directly on the page where the video is hosted, allowing the candidates and campaign teams to get an immediate sense of the public reaction to the ad, which might otherwise take days to get from third-party resources, such as focus groups.

Secondly, another clear advantage is that it's free. While most career politicians have the money and sponsorship to afford endless advertising, the less glamorous candidates get equal opportunity for exposure on YouTube. Thus, it makes the site a lot more attractive for "candidates who are running their campaign in a grassroots kind of way," says Annie Collins, a Democrat running for County Clerk in Kane County, Illinois, who is in favor of using YouTube to attract a new audience. "We're really in the information age now, and people are at their computer all the time," said Collins.

Additionally, the audience is going to be more likely to actually be paying attention when they view a campaign ad or other politically-driven video (e.g. clips from televised debates or on-location videos of candidates on the campaign trail) on YouTube than if it's on in the background on the TV.

Of course, the setback is that users are unlikely to search for videos of candidates they've never heard of, and the campaign videos will have the most prevalent reach to those who are somewhat politically savvy and are searching for ads of candidates for whom they already plan to vote. Therefore, YouTube is more of a complement to more conventional ads than it is a replacement.