Obama's Race Speech on YouTube Tops Cable News Ratings
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One week later, it's clear that Americans heard The Speech.
About 3.8 million people have now watched Barack Obama's Philadelphia address through the campaign's official YouTube channel, which has over 40,000 subscribers. "It is the highest viewed video ever uploaded by a presidential candidate to YouTube, surpassing Mike Huckabee's Chuck Norris endorsement video," says Steve Grove, who directs News and Politics for YouTube. Aside from the Obama channel, which promotes videos through blogs, news sites and supporter networks, another 520,000 people watched excerpts of the speech uploaded by random YouTube users. Taken together, the total YouTube viewers for Obama's speech over the past week beat all the cable channels combined. Last Tuesday, about four million viewers tuned into one of the three cable channels to watch the speech.
This is not the first time that Obama's YouTube audience has rivaled cable news. His second most popular video ever, a rebuttal to President Bush's final State of the Union, drew 1.3 million views. The President's actual address reached 3.2 million homes through a Fox News broadcast, making it the seventh highest program on cable that week. It is not a direct comparison, since the Presidential address is widely promoted and broadcast on many stations. Yet without the bully pulpit of the White House and its built-in television coverage -- or the high cost of campaign ads -- a candidate can now reach supporters and interested voters with unfiltered, even substantive addresses.
Of course, Obama's most popular YouTube video was itself a response to videos of Jeremiah Wright that had riveted cable news and YouTube. "If it wasn't for the replaying of Wright's remarks on YouTube, Obama wouldn't have been forced to give the speech on race in the first place," contends Slate's John Dickerson, yet "Obama decried the YouTube era of politics that reduces everyone to small, grainy clips endlessly replayed on cable news." But YouTube, just like television, depends on the programming. Salacious clips can always draw viewers. What is remarkable here is the overwhelming public demand for deeper, unfiltered campaign information -- regardless of who voters support. So Obama was not decrying the "YouTube era of politics" in his speech, as Dickerson argues, so much as the way that political brawling and cable bickering become the lowest common denominator of our entire public discourse:
Ari Melber is a regular contributor to The Nation, focusing on American politics, public policy and Internet activism, and a writer for The Nation's Campaign 08 blog.