What YouTube tells us about our political conversation

A new online analysis firm figures it out.

Published October 28, 2008 2:00PM (EDT)

If you've been following the election at all (and I'm guessing if you've been reading this column you have been), chances are you've encountered various YouTube videos promoting one of the two candidates. If you're liberal, maybe you've seen the Sarah Silverman Great Schlep video, or perhaps Colin Powell endorsing Obama, or the recent (and brilliant) Wassup 2008 video. If you're conservative, maybe you've seen McCain Brings Down the House at the Al Smith dinner, or a McCain march in Manhattan, or something about the Democrats covering up Fannie and Freddie.

But while it's been relatively easy to find these videos over the last few weeks and months, it's been tough to figure out exactly who is linking to those videos and how much those videos are then worth to the respective campaigns.

Last week, Morningside Analytics quietly announced its new Political Video Barometer to determine exactly how ideas are spreading via video through the political conversation. Morningside is a relatively new analysis firm founded by John Kelly, who will soon have his Ph.D. from Columbia University (Morningside Heights is the New York neighborhood where Columbia sits). The firm gained some notoriety earlier this year for its study of the Iranian blogosphere, doing what likely is the most comprehensive and rigorous study of Farsi-language blogs inside Iran.

What did they find?

The three videos getting the most blog links are, in fact, on the liberal side.

In addition, only one of the top 10 videos was posted officially by the campaign, and  these days, most of the top videos are about "the company one keeps (personally or their campaign).

Over the last fourteen days, the top four of the five most linked and/or embedded YouTube videos by liberal bloggers were all focused on comments made by McCain supporters."

Not surprisingly, this jives pretty much with what TechPresident's Micah Sifry recently determined -- that the more than 1,650 videos the Obama campaign officially has on YouTube vastly exceeds the number of videos the McCain campaign officially has on YouTube.

He determined that if you take the total number of views of a video times the video length to determine the total number of hours, it comes to:

Obama 14,548,809.05 hours; McCain 488,093.01 hours.

Sifry also noted some back-of-the-envelope math calculated by Joe Trippi -- who famously ran Howard Dean's online campaign in 2004 -- to determine the current market value on TV for that much airtime.

It's around $46,893,000 dollars. Math works like this. The City of Denver has 1.3million TV households -- to buy those households costs $350 per point ($350 to reach one percent of those households) to reach 100% of those 1.3 million for 30 seconds would cost $35,000. So to reach them all for an hour would be 120 X $35,000 = $4,200,000. To get to 14.5 viewing hours you multiply $4,200,000 X 14.5 = $60,900,000.

Now to take out the 300,000 of the 1.3 million to get this really down to 14.5 million hours. 300,000 is 23% of 1.3 million -- so we reduce $60,900,000 by 23% = $46,893,000. We could have gotten rid of the 300,000 using the same method at the beginning to make this easier to understand -- but it is going to be around $46 million.

Furthermore, Trippi notes to Sifry: "The finer point would be that people were not forced to watch these -- they wanted to watch them -- they chose to watch them."

But I think that the most surprising thing that I've learned so far here is what Ethan Zuckerman pointed out yesterday:

Just a note for all the smug, self-satisfied liberals out there - a group that often includes me: There are a lot of videos listed here linked only by conservative blogs and not by liberal blogs. I couldn't find a single video that's solely linked to by liberal blogs. Who's running the more insulated echo chamber here?


By Cyrus Farivar

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