Creating Effective Political Video for the Web

Today’s Internet Advocacy Roundtable zeroed in on effective web political video, with presenters David Livingston of Capitol Hill Broadcasting Network and Dan Manatt of PoliticsTV joining organizer Alan Rosenblatt to speak before a group sprinkled with experienced online video producers. The resulting discussion went beyond the basics of using web video for electoral and advocacy campaigns, delving into real detail about what works and what doesn’t.

David Livingston started things off by discussing CHBN and how it plans to become a nonpartisan advocacy tool for organizations and campaigns by supplementing and sometimes replacing YouTube for political video distribution. Unlike YouTube, CHBN is entirely focused on political material, cutting through the clutter of unrelated content and avoiding the mislabeling common on general interest sites. He sees video as a real boost for campaigns, creating a way for them to connect with supporters in a visceral way.

Similarly, Dan Manatt talked about the potential of video allow campaigns to reach past traditional media filters and speak directly to voters. Though online video technology has been in use for years, he cited three recent moments — Macaca, Saddam Hussein’s hanging and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign announcement — as examples of web video reaching the tipping point in the popular mind. He also mentioned the Bush/Cheney 2004 campaign as an unheralded pioneer in political web video.

Manatt talked about the coming of “omnivideo,” which he sees as having three aspects:

  • Production. From film to hi-definition video to phones, cameras will be everywhere, all the time. Barak Obama recently talked about modern campaigning being like a reality show, part American Idol and part Survivor, and he’s not going to be alone in that feeling as the ’08 campaign progresses.
  • Distribution. Video will quickly become inescapable, with phones, Ipods, DVRs and of course computers all able to display it.
  • Expectation. We are quickly arriving at the point that people will expect video content from candidates and advocacy groups, just as they now expect them to have a website.

These changes have fueled a revolution in cost (how much did it take to produce the Macaca video? $700), with free editing tools and free hosting joining $300 video cameras to ensure that just about any campaign can set its message in motion.

Some Tips for Making Effective Online Political Video

With the presentations out of the way, a discussion broke out in the room over how to really use political video to advocate policy and elect candidates. The lessons included:

  • Know your audience! Clinton caught flak in the blogosphere for her very slickly produced announcement video (It doesn’t look like web video, so she just doesn’t Get It!), but that same clip impressed the hell out of a lot of reporter/pundit types. At whom do you think her campaign was really aiming it, bloggers or Washington Post columnists?
  • Donors and reporters will often be key targets of online video, both for electoral and issue campaigns. Remember that even if only a few hundred people see your clip, that may be perfect — IF they’re the right few hundred people.
  • Know the particular constraints of online video. Think for instance about the scale — if your video has text, will it be legible in a tiny on-screen window? Also, most successful web videos are shot without camera pans or zooms since camera motion tends to look jerky over even many high-bandwidth connections. Likewise, visually busy backgrounds can come out as a jumble at screen resolution, so video podcasts and similar programs often use a very simple background.
  • Pay attention to your audience’s attention span. Alan Rosenblatt recommended hitting your points hard at the beginning and also having your message resolve in some way every 15 seconds or so even in a longer video. This way, even if people watch only a short snippet, they can still come away with a complete thought. Dan Manatt put it a different way — with television, you generally put the climax at the end, but in web video, give your audience the dessert first.
  • As you’re producing video content, think about multipurposing it from the beginning. For instance, you can certainly post campaign tv commercials online, but how about recutting the footage with an eye for the kinds of timing and audience concerns listed above.
  • With web video, compression is key! The level of compression should match the audience. For instance, you could run a piece aimed at college students with high-speed on-campus Internet connections at a much higher quality level than a clip intended for anti-poverty activists scattered around the globe. A professional video producer will know tricks to help you avoid some common compression problems, such as audio and video getting out of sync (for instance, Windows Media files seem to stay in sync better than mp4s when you’re uploading to YouTube, which compresses your videos before it displays them).
  • Talent matters in front of the camera as well as behind it — compelling spokespeople can make a huge difference.
  • Assuming you’re putting out your video content for electoral or advocacy purposes, make it easy for people to take action. If you post on YouTube, for instance, be sure your URL is at the top of the list of comments about your video.
  • Keep a copy of your content! Backup, backup, backup, backup…a word that cannot be repeated too often.

It’s rare to get this much detail about putting a technology to work, so thanks to Alan for organizing the roundtable. For a great collection of online video resources, see this recent piece as well.


Written by
Colin Delany
View all articles