Before the Internet, video was largely synonymous with television, supplemented by the emergence of video games and video rentals. Somewhere in the attic, a few home videos may gather dust – pricey and precious memories for the smallest of audiences. Today, video is a powerfully disruptive force, giving rise to a myriad of new choices and challenges.
First, there was YouTube – growing every literal minute by an estimated three hundred hours of new content. Facebook now rivals the Google-owned platform as a video behemoth, with more than three billion video content views daily. Netflix, meanwhile, has legitimized the streaming of movies and programs previously viewable only through broadcast television.
Enter the CRTC: while it has no domain over Netflix it decreed a massive shift in content distribution by mandating the introduction of a new “pick and pay” model of unbundled channels. Traditional television and cable providers are now left scrambling to respond, with a fair bit of uncertainty, innovation, and litigation set to follow in the months and years ahead.
Finally, the mobile revolution has empowered most everyone with high-powered recording devices that greatly democratize the production and distribution of video as applications such as Meerkat provide for live video streaming. Some observers, such as Obama presidential advisor, Dan Pfeiffer, have already sought to characterize the coming 2016 campaign as the Meerkat Election.
For political campaigns, there is both promise and peril. The promise stems from an extended reach into especially those younger audiences abandoning traditional television for online streaming. As Pfeiffer observes, if you are a Hillary Clinton strategist, streaming an important policy announcement (or donor request) to just ten percent of President Obama’s 56 million Twitter followers via a tool such as Meerkat is enticing. Conversely, mistakes will be amplified and candidates may well become more scripted in order to avoid that viral mishap.
The notion of “audience” is likely to become ever-more fluid – challenging the traditional campaign model that has, until now, become increasingly fixated on broadcast imagery. In the 2011 federal election, for example, party leaders often delivered speeches with a highly partisan and cheering audience physically set behind them, with only a raft of media lenses in front. Unaffiliated voters no longer need such events to listen and view candidates, and broadband-induced video sharing will only accentuate this trend.
For candidates at the local riding level, the nexus between broadband and mobility augments at least the potential for greater visibility and reach – in a media environment often overshadowed by national coverage. There is also the potential for wider forms of grassroots engagement and mobilization, provided that local candidates have some degrees of freedom to listen and engage, rather than merely being conduits for party headquarters.
And therein lies that familiar digital tension between freedom and control. With its innovative grassroots techniques – online and offline, the Obama 2008 movement proved to be tremendously disruptive. The 2012 effort, by contrast, centred much more on voter analytics and micro-targeting (techniques conducive to video advertising). At this year’s Digital Government Forum, Don Tapscott succinctly contrasted these two campaigns during his keynote address as a shift from, “we need you” to “we know you.”
The rising pre-eminence of video will also be felt between elections – within government, as traditional communications functions struggle with a citizenry increasingly fragmented and potentially overwhelmed with online ads. In the new “pick and choose” television environment, for instance, do commercial ads still make sense? Already on social media, many highly polished government advertising campaigns generate only limited viewership, raising questions about their impact and return on investment.
At the same time, any genuine effort at public engagement will necessitate a video dimension, and not merely broadcasting the opportunity to complete a written survey online. Soliciting video submissions and housing virtual dialogues will go from gimmickry to necessity. The ramifications for the traditional government workplace are equally profound: the insightful and polished Blueprint 2020 video submissions by graduate students – future public servants – point to an emergent era both more participatory and more virtual.
Inside and outside of government, the video transformation has only just begun.