Convergence Media

YouTube Winner In Democratic Debate

I’m late to the post-YouTube-CNN debate party — aptly dubbed a “quiz show” — the mind has been willing but the body, incapacitated. But before the event fades from memory, I have a few words on the subject.

You can complain about the TV production (like this) or go on about a clash of culture between “old” and “new” media. These discussions probably sound a lot like the gnashing of teeth in the early days of television. You know. When TV was going to “kill off” radio. (It didn’t.)

The larger clash is much more fundamental than “Cable TV v YouTube.” And it may be generational.

That clash is one of participatory culture versus consumed culture. It’s active versus passive. It’s a clash in values (intellectual property), power (gatekeepers) and personal expression (creativity).

This clash extends beyond the criticism that CNN folks selected the questions. (I have no serious heartburn with that. Asking 8 people to each answer 3000 questions — some of which were, pardon my elitism, stupid — doesn’t scale.)

It extends to something that former Sen. John Edwards talked about last summer while in Seattle: the need for politicians to break free of scripted politics-as-usual and connect with voters, to be transparent, to get “real.”

Winners and Losers
That was what I was looking for Monday night. Which candidates would answer questions like they were talking with a real person, instead of regurgitating a pre-set soundbite spin?

The three who did this “best”: Edwards and Biden (“If that’s his baby he needs help”). Well, maybe Gravel, but he’s pretty much a one-note pony. (It’s a good note, I’m not being dismissive of the importance of his point about money and entrenched parties.)

Who did it “worst”? Clinton and Richardson. She talked formally (I have a plan… for everything) and cerebrally. Richardson, as White points out, seemed off his game. (I still have hopes for him – he’s the only executive in the bunch.)

Who understood the YouTube audience and created a 30 second spot that worked on both YouTube and CNN? Edwards. Who had not a clue about the YouTubers when selecting their ad? Biden and Gravel. (Generational issue?)

Younger Audience
CNN says it got a boost in the 18-34 demographic (the one advertisers salivate over) — the most ever for a cable news debate. And those are real-time numbers — masking younger viewers who may have watched a stream or a Tivo’ed show or even the post-event sound-biteable nuggets on YouTube itself.

I know the advertisers care about those live numbers, but they gotta get over it. That business model has gotta evolve. The people who want to watch this on TV will watch it on TV. The people who want to watch it online will watch it online. Deal.

Maybe this is why Google bought YouTube: this enabling technology was a clear winner in this event.
Last fall, lots of people were scratching their heads, wondering, “What is Google thinking?,” when all that they could see was potential financial liability (copyright wars).

Maybe Google foresaw the possibilities of citizen media and politics, Internet distribution and TV. Maybe Google understood that it’s the content, not the distribution (or creation) chain, that matters.

YouTube is personal. So is politics. And so were some of the candidates in this debate-quiz-show. As 2008 approaches, we should hope for more of the new, less of the old.

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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