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More on Obama's Roadblock: The White House YouTube Channel

BY Micah L. Sifry | Monday, September 21 2009

A friend responded to my post about Barack Obama's sagging YouTube statistics by noting that since the election, a lot of Obama's video viewers may have migrated over to his official White House YouTube channel. Fair point. But a close look at their metrics doesn't change my main point, that the White House isn't making very good use of online video and as a result is not connecting very well online.

Here's the overall track of the White House YouTube channel, as tracked by TubeMogul:

Overall, the White House has garnered 16.3 million views on YouTube since January 20th. Being charitable, and assuming they'd hit 24 million by the end of the year, this means the White House YouTube channel is about half as popular as its still functioning campaign channel (which is now the home for Organizing for America's videos): 2 million views a month compared to a bit more than 4 million a month. The White House channel has 87,645 subscribers, compared to 177,852 for the OFA BarackObama channel. It doesn't look like that big a "migration" has happened from the campaign channel to the official White House channel.

Like the Obama campaign channel, the White House YouTube channel is getting a lot of viewers for old videos. This "long tail" effect isn't inherently a bad thing, and in fact is common for lots of video publishers. But take a look at how it breaks out for yesterday's views of the Obama White House channel, when he got about 57,900 views, slightly above his running average for the site. It is interesting that after the President's "Rosh Hashana" message, which was his most popular yesterday with 18,864 views (no surprise given the timing) and "back to school" message, which was his second most popular individual video yesterday, with 3,742 views, it was two videos of him speaking to the Muslim world from Cairo in June, and his Ramadan message in August, that got such a large proportion of attention among the forty most-viewed videos on his list from yesterday (7,203 views in all for those three, out of ). I don't know if this is because of people from the Muslim world searching out his messages, or from people obsessed with the myth that he is Muslim, but either way it's startling that these are up there among his most popular videos among current viewers of his channel.

When it comes to how the White House video channel is engaging the public on the health care debate, the results aren't very pretty. With the exception of videos aimed at mobilizing health reform supporters and pushing back against some of the myths in the debate, each of which has about 250,000 views, the rest of the Obama's health care-themed videos are in the low- to mid-five figures. Worse, from the White House's point of view, these videos aren't showing much traction right now, as the health care fight intensifies. The 33 videos TubeMogul identifies (by their titles) as touching on health care got roughly 1,200 views yesterday. That's pretty paltry.

To reiterate the point I made in my earlier post, the problem is that some political content is inherently more "remarkable" and thus gets spread far and wide by online news viewers, and some isn't. Unfortunately for Obama, what he and his team have been creating and posting online is pretty officious compared to all the raucous, pointed and vibrant content available to people interested in politics these days. Instead of "flooding the zone" with rich content, he's playing it safe--and not getting much play.