Executive Vlog: Weekly YouTube Addresses

If there was anything that the Obama presidential campaign yearned for in 2008, it was that we as a nation were beginning an era of change. As we see how our lives can be improved and altered, our eyes first land on the digital media industry. With the internet and all its possibilities, new devices with technological advances, and how television can be affected by these things, it is easy to see how the world is changing. For example, President Obama’s decision to post his weekly addresses to the nation on Youtube.com is one facet that symbolizes the change that is upon our nation. The choice to begin YouTube addresses is an ideal one because it expands the speech’s target audience, leaves the address concept open for growth, and accepts the booming digital media industry.

The decision to post weekly presidential addresses on Youtube.com helps to grow the intended audience and spread President Obama’s word further. When President Roosevelt began his now-famous “fireside chats,” these radio events were occurrences that could not be missed. However, in today’s fast-paced world, the radio has taken a back seat to the power of the internet. People often do not have time to catch events as they air live on the radio. The same holds true for television, hence the staggering success of the digital video recorder. To have President Obama’s addresses archived as public assess on the internet is just like having his spoken word saved on a digital video recorder. However, this stored footage loses its sense of “liveness” that it would usually carry on the radio or television. The idea “that the time of the event corresponds to the transmission and viewing times” (Feuer 14) is lost, yet the address’ accessibility allows more individuals to hear its message.

Not only are YouTube addresses a fantastic idea for greater exposure to the general public, but this move is also ideal for catching the attention of younger Americans. With a simple look at YouTube’s user base, a surprising amount consists of adolescents and those in their early twenties. These are individuals who will make a difference in the world one day, and with the expansiveness of the internet, people are becoming more and more accustomed to spending time in cyberspace. For as many random videos and blogs that are out there, surely a presidential video blog should get enough exposure for it to make a positive impact on the younger generation. An individual such as President Obama has already made a difference in many people’s lives and perhaps by reaching out to the cyber-community, the affected population could drastically increase. By targeting both the younger, internet-focused community as well as those who would not typically attend a live weekly address, the presidential YouTube addresses are a wise move to get President Obama’s word out to the masses.

By selecting YouTube as the home of the presidential weekly addresses, there is potential to expand the fireside chats into something greater by using the website’s resources. The ability for users to “subscribe” to a YouTube channel gives people the chance to closely follow the media that the White House puts out. The White House’s channel (“YouTube – whitehouse’s Channel”), where not only the weekly addresses are posted, but also where related videos such as President Obama’s recent speech to Congress are uploaded, currently has approximately 25,000 subscribers. If you compare this with the channel’s 250,000 channel views, it is reasonable to say that the channel needs more exposure, when one of the most popular Youtube channels, “Fred,” has about 880,000 subscribers and 208,000,000 views all-time (“YouTube – Fred’s Channel”). While it is astounding how so many people can find a kid who edits his videos to talk in a high-pitched voice so amusing, it is also shocking that the internet community has not fully embraced such a diligent effort to inform the American public on the events occurring in Washington, D.C.

The possibility to expand the weekly addresses into something bigger lies in the potential of user feedback. Even though the White House is embedding the YouTube videos on their own website (“Your Weekly Address”), Youtube.com allows for users to comment with text and respond in video form to other user’s videos. Unfortunately, the cyberspace phenomenon known as “trolling” often rears its ugly head on YouTube videos, especially when they center on controversial issues such as politics. On President Obama’s latest video, people have posted several hateful comments, but YouTube fortunately has adopted a community-moderation policy as a result where users can rate comments and potentially remove them (“2/28/09: Your Weekly Address”). These “trolls” see no repercussion in badmouthing the president, claiming free speech as they hide behind their cyber-identities. However, there are those who provide positive feedback, which could yield to possibilities in making the weekly addresses a very positive experience for the American people. The presidential addresses could be more entertaining, adding to its televisuality, if President Obama responded to certain questions or responses that other users had from his previous address. Not only would this give the president a more personable side to the public, but users would feel honored to have their response personally addressed by such an important figure. The only drawback is that it would take more time to fish through the video’s comments, something that those working at the White House might not have, especially if the channel gains more popularity. However, this change would not only redefine what the weekly address is for the better, but if it is done properly, it could portray the White House in a very positive light. By responding to positive user feedback and making the most of YouTube’s “subscriber” feature, the weekly presidential addresses could become something much more important to the American people than it is currently.

The most important facet of the White House’s shift of putting the weekly presidential addresses on Youtube.com is that they are embracing the booming digital media industry. The first step of this acceptance process was accomplished by understanding the power of streaming video. By making the weekly speech a video blog, President Obama has more presence compared to the radio addresses of the past and even President Bush’s addresses that were put in audio podcast form (“Internet Archive Wayback Machine”). Critics and citizens alike can analyze President Obama’s facial inflections and other minor visual details as he delivers his monologue, something that was not possible before. Radio and other audio-only forms were unique in the sense that viewers only had the sound to listen to, but with video, the entire package is intact. This could be seen as ontological, as it cannot be denied that radio is lacking video, but it is also ideological in how the varying mediums can change the intent of the president’s words. By using the ease of accessibility that lies in digital video, more information is transferred to the public than what would have been possible with audio alone.

The next process that had to be completed for the White House was to select a host for their video files. By choosing YouTube to host the official video blog of the President of the United States, an intriguing dichotomy was formed. On one hand, YouTube is undeniably the leader in video hosting on the internet. Other hosting sites such as Revver, DailyMotion, and Veoh can hardly even compare with the number of website hits that YouTube accrues daily. The White House would gain the most exposure by choosing this route, which is the most similar to a mass media source like radio or television that they could achieve at this point in time. Contrarily, something has to be said for the national government backing a corporation as powerful as Google, who owns Youtube.com. If any corporation is close to gaining any semblance of a “cyber-monopoly,” it is Google, whose company has become a household name and verb synonymous for “searching online.” A government backing could only enhance Google’s power online, which could potentially be as dangerous as a typical corporate monopoly in the business world. However, this could also lead the government to understanding how important the internet is to the framework of society. A greater understanding of the cyber-community could lead to development of resources online not just for Google, but also for websites everywhere. Up until now, the internet has become as massive media form primarily on its own, with governments and top companies all over the world only seeming to take advantage of it with their own websites, instead of trying to encourage its development. With the White House essentially partnering itself with Google, it could yield dangerous results in terms of corporate balance in cyberspace, but it also shows that the government is placing their interests in the internet as a media form. By embracing this industry, the government has the potential to advance cyber media into the future with a powerful backing.

When President Obama started his “vlog,” or video blog, when he was a presidential candidate, not only was change imminent politically, but there was always the potential for change on the media front. The decision to have the weekly presidential addresses on YouTube was the perfect choice because it reaches a larger target audience, allows the concept to have future growth, and embraces the flourishing digital media industry. Even though these addresses don’t follow the live TV formula, President Obama has more presence because of this unique format of address, not to mention that there is potential for enhanced televisuality. It will be intriguing to see how future presidents adapt this video blog address format, but we can only now postulate what its long term effects will be.

“2/28/09: Your Weekly Address.” YouTube. 28 Feb 2009. Google. 1 Mar 2009 .
Feuer, Jane. “The Concept of Live Television: Ontology as Ideology.” Regarding Television (1983): 12-22.
“Internet Archive Wayback Machine.” Internet Archive: Wayback Machine. 06 Mar 2008. Internet Archive. 1 Mar 2009 .
“Your Weekly Address.” The White House. 28 Feb 2009. The White House. 1 Mar 2009 .
“YouTube – Fred’s Channel.” YouTube. 28 Feb 2009. Google. 1 Mar 2009 .
“YouTube – whitehouse’s Channel.” YouTube. 28 Feb 2009. Google. 1 Mar 2009 .

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Peter Spezia

Editor-in-Chief at Rhymes With Asia
Speaking into a microphone about nerd culture is a passion project for Peter Spezia, formerly known as SMYNYouko. Peter has been an Internet broadcaster since 2007, with past shows including Show Me Your News and WTF, Pokémon. His latest ventures include hosting The PowerSwitch - gaming's call-in talk radio show - and writing for RhymesWithAsia.com. A University of Michigan alum, Peter lives in the Great Lakes State with his wife Rachel as he works in video production for FCA US LLC. When he isn't keeping track of the latest video game industry news, Peter is either playing the guitar or staying fit.