Stark, Others Surf Web Video Wave

Posted January 28, 2005 at 6:42pm

Although Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will deliver the official Democratic response to President Bush’s State of the Union address this week, the Internet is allowing other lawmakers to get in on the act.

A Washington, D.C.-based Democratic consulting firm, @dvocacy Inc., is pitching Web-based videos to Democrats in Congress, promising them the ability to reach a sizable portion of their constituency.

One early adopter is Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.). Stark plans to deliver his own high-tech response to Bush’s State of the Union address via a Web video. Constituents will receive notice of the video via e-mail.

Of course, the e-mail won’t reach every constituent, and those without computers may certainly be left out of the loop.

But the company boasts that it can typically add an additional 50,000 to 80,000 e-mail addresses to the list of those that a House office starts with, or hundreds of thousands more in the case of a Senator who wants to reach out to voters statewide.

Its sponsors see the new technology changing the way lawmakers communicate to their constituents.

“These short face-to-face messages from their own Member of Congress about the State of the Union will be the kind of e-mails people look forward to opening,” says @dvocacy Inc.’s CEO Roger Stone. “It’s a new form of political communication.”

But @dvocacy Inc. isn’t the only player in this game. These days, politicos are regularly finding new uses for Web video, both on and off Capitol Hill.

Other Members are exploring Web video as a method for conducting “live” — just not face-to-face — town-hall meetings.

In February, a group of young Democratic activists and consultants is launching a new Democratic Webcast and talk show called demsTv.com. It’s designed, in their words, to fight back against the Republican noise machine.

Both parties began using Web video extensively during the 2004 presidential campaign.

While Bush-Cheney ’04 was the first campaign to hire a full-time Web videographer, candidates from both parties aired television ads on their respective campaign Web sites, often inspiring strong public interest.

Thanks to the Internet, Rep. David Wu (D-Calif.) found a national audience for a television ad that featured him bungee jumping off a bridge. Wu said the jump was designed to illustrate his views on protecting Social Security.

In addition, JibJab’s satiric animated music video “This Land” became a national hit, and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attracted a wide audience for its material attacking Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). Dozens of independent groups and individuals also flooded cyberspace with their own political videos — a trend with sometimes troubling implications.

In “Under the Radar and Over the Top: Independently-produced Political Videos in the 2004 Presidential Election,” an analysis by the George Washington University Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet, researchers found that the independent Web videos in the 2004 election cycle tended to be “extremely partisan” and “mean-spirited.”

“These extremely partisan videos, which are traded among influential political activists who forward them to their large networks of friends and colleagues, are inciting an already polarized electorate,” said Carol Darr, a director of the institute and co-author of the report. “This is a troubling trend, and one that will quickly trickle down to state and local races.”

If Web video appears to be the latest political fad, its popularity stems in large part from the technology’s low production costs.

According to the George Washington University study, inexpensive Web videos can be produced with “moderate technical skills” and just $1,000 worth of hardware and software.

Stone wouldn’t put an exact figure on his Webcast service but said it was in the “three-digit” range, or equivalent to the price of producing “a few yard signs.”

By contrast, the cost of producing a broadcast-caliber video comes with a price tag of less than $7,500.