- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Viewership for President-elect Barack Obama‘s weekly YouTube “fireside chats” has tanked, dropping more than 50 percent since his initial video three weeks ago.

“I’ve heard a lot of puffed-up rhetoric about how this is going to change the face of politics and how it’s going to be FDR’s fireside chats. The data doesn’t back it up,” said David Burch, marketing manager for TubeMogul, which tracks YouTube video views.

The first video address, released four weekends ago, drew 789,868 viewers over its first three days and is nearing 1 million total, according to TubeMogul’s figures. But the second video was viewed 451,077 times in three days, Thanksgiving weekend’s video garnered 152,222 views, and this weekend’s fourth installment had about 370,000 views as of Monday evening.

Interest in Mr. Obama’s postelection YouTube channel, ChangeDotGov, is down substantially overall compared with the heady days of his campaign, when BarackObama.com regularly cracked the top 10 channels and some of his videos drew more than 5 million views.

The drop from Mr. Obama’s campaign to the transition may have been inevitable, given what the campaign achieved. Mr. Obama compiled a list of e-mail supporters 13 million strong, raised money from about 4 million of them, and drew millions of them to BarackObama.com to look for videos, exchange ideas and generally express their admiration for the candidate.

Now, he’s no longer their candidate. Instead, he has to strike a balance as president that appeals to even those who didn’t vote for him or weren’t part of his movement.

Mr. Obama’s campaign didn’t immediately have a comment on the numbers. But members of his new-media team, speaking at a symposium in New York last week, said the difference between a candidate and a president is affecting how the Web site is run.

“The relationship is different,” Joe Rospars, the campaign’s director of new media, told the Alliance of Youth Movements summit. “In the campaign, we had a relationship between Barack Obama and a whole lot of people who supported him and his policies and his ideas and his vision for the country.”

“If you look at Change.gov … that’s focused more on transparency and accessibility and service and these kinds of things rather than implementing a legislative agenda and sort of having a political organization,” Mr. Rospars said.

As of Monday morning, Change.Gov, as the YouTube channel is labeled, was at No. 20 for viewership over the past week. That put it behind the No. 19 channel, HotForWords, where alluring 27-year-old blond Marina dishes on the origins and uses of words. New Yorker magazine deemed Marina “the world’s sexiest philologist.”

By Monday evening, Mr. Obama’s transition channel had slid to No. 21.

Mr. Burch said part of the problem is that Mr. Obama is using 21st-century technology to deliver early 20th-century communication. President Roosevelt pioneered the weekly fireside chat radio address as a way of bringing the presidency closer to Americans.

Mr. Obama’s videos show him sitting at a desk to deliver his address. Mr. Burch said his supporters are looking for something more.

“The viewers are kind of voting with their feet,” he said.

President Bush’s own weekly radio address text and audio, but not the video, are posted at www.WhiteHouse.gov.

Mr. Obama does post his videos to some other video-sharing Web sites, but Mr. Burch said YouTube still dominates the market and is a good indicator of trends and successes or failures.

Mr. Obama has said he wants to use the Web to help revamp the relationship between citizens and their government, posting videos and minutes of meetings online and allowing a comment period for voters to sound off about bills during the time after Congress passes them but before Mr. Obama signs or vetoes them.

His transition Web site on Monday posted a video of interest groups meeting with the transition’s energy and environmental policy team. It had gained more than 200 viewers by Monday evening - putting it far ahead of the president-elect’s Veterans Day video, which after three weeks had garnered only seven views on his YouTube channel.

Mr. Rospars said the Obama team is surveying supporters to determine what they want to see from the Obama administration, and the campaign is trying to figure out which tools to carry over to the job of chief executive.

The last time Mr. Obama sent a phone text message to his army of supporters was at 11:53 p.m. on Election Day, telling them he won “because you gave your time, talent and passion to this campaign. All of this happened because of you.”

Postelection online viewership is down for many political and news sites, and Internet professionals say it’s probably a sign of postelection fatigue.

Still, those supporters can be valuable.

Howard Dean used the e-mail list he compiled in his failed 2004 presidential campaign to help him win the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee in 2005.

The online strategy has bled over into the race for Republican National Committee chairman, with contender Michael S. Steele, the former Maryland lieutenant governor, urging Republicans to text him their ideas for the future of the party. The texts are posted on www.SteeleForChairman.com.

• Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report.

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