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Business, Featured - Written by on Wednesday, June 11, 2008 17:55 - 11 Comments

Obama’s YouTube Secret: Longer Videos

It is no secret that Obama has blown his opponents out of the water on YouTube. 

  • Seven of the videos on Obama’s official YouTube page have drawn more than a million views, with his speech on race pushing the 5 million mark. Not one Clinton video has made it to a million, and McCain’s most viewed clip has drawn less than half that.
  •  The cumulative viewership of all the YouTube videos Obama has posted in the last three weeks is almost 2 million, while neither Clinton nor McCain has broken 400 thousand.

Is this because Obama just coincidentally happens to appeal to those young and wired voters who use a lot of YouTube? Partially, no doubt.But Obama is also using YouTube more effectively. Specifically, he is posting longer and more insightful videos.

Consider, for YouTube videos posted by the candidates over the last three weeks: 

  •  The average length was 7 minutes.
  •  Three of the four most-viewed Obama videos are over 20 minutes, and the fourth is 13 minutes long.
  •  The only two Clinton videos that were longer than 20 minutes (all the others were less than four minutes) were in her top-three most viewed.
  •  For all three candidates, on average, longer videos get more views:



Longer clips are preferable because, rather than regurgitate what is already on TV and in the papers, they provide us with greater insight and ability to scrutinize. It’s a myth that NetGeners don’t follow politics on TV. Its just that we know that watching CNN for 5 minutes isn’t much more informative than watching it all day. We go to YouTube for greater insight, to use that NetGen norm of scrutiny, and short clips consisting of ads and quick sound bytes don’t  provide that opportunity.It is interesting that, in the chart above, Obama and Clinton attract, on average, the same number of views for videos of the same length. That makes a lot of sense, because you would expect viewers to want to watch videos of all the candidates.Part of the scrutiny that NetGeners bring to following politics is a desire to be informed of all perspectives. At school, living in a house full of politics majors and Obama supporters, my housemates and I spent a lot of time watching his YouTube videos. The thing is, we always wanted to watch Clinton and McCain videos as well. But we could rarely find ones that were insightful. If they had done a better job at providing useful content, we probably would have watched their videos as much as those of our candidate.  I get the impression that Clinton and McCain both view YouTube as a way to engage with a younger, and in their minds less mature, audience. Instead, like Obama, they should see it as a way of bypassing the mindlessness of mainstream political coverage, and engaging in a higher level of civic dialogue. The first step is longer videos. (We’ll have to hope that Nick CarrMark Bauerlein, and other boomers will have the attention span ;) )


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Ben Letalik
Jun 12, 2008 9:45

This is some great research Will. I think the real issue is that netgeners who are politically inclined want to watch the longer, more insightful videos while those who aren’t simply don’t care at all. This is where Clinton and McCain are making their mistakes. While I think they are correct in assuming that most netgeners and youtubers have short attention spans, these users are more attracted to fire in the hole instead of news from the campaign trail.

While Obama has won the youtube war against Clinton and McCain, I think the true winner is Ron Paul (who technically is still in the race). While overall he isn’t as popular as Obama online, one of his ads has over 6 million views. Paul, in my opinion, has best leveraged the internet and the net generation to his advantage. Appealing to the political fringe and uniting them through the internet led to the single largest one-day political fundraiser in history with the December 16 moneybomb.
In just one day, Paul raised over 6 million dollars. This is all with very little exposure in the mainstream media.

Jude Fiorillo
Jun 12, 2008 10:01

I think you’re right that one reason that Obama has so many YouTube viewers is that the younger generation relates to him more. This is partly because he himself is younger, partly because he is very charismatic, and partly because he has expressed views that strike a chord with younger people (and seemingly well across the board for that matter)

Regarding your main argument, I can’t say that I agree. I don’t think it’s the length that matters, it’s the quality. YouTube viewers are not accustomed to watching long video clips, and -unless- the content is really engaging, I suspect that many people will not watch longer videos past a certain point; worse, a longer video without substance or appeal will likely backfire and dilute the quality (resulting in a lower rating). Consider that the average YouTube video is around 3 minutes, according to this page and that internet users have many alternative viewing options. There is likely an optimal viewing length on the basis of what the content is, and how it connects with its audience (going back to why people viewed Obama’s video’s more – he’s the champion of the YouTube audience). As an example, which of the following would the average YouTube user be willing to watch a 10 minutes clip of:

1. News: tuition prices to increase by 150%
2. News: seniors home care costs to increase by 150%

The interesting thing for me is how the younger generation will react to McCain in the upcoming election. I don’t even think it will be a competition within this demographic because young viewers don’t identify with McCain on a lot of issues, or his methods of communication. Obama will have a virtual monopoly on YouTube because even if McCain does post videos of the same length as Obama, he’s just not believable over this media channel; consider that McCain has admitted that he is computer illiterate; I don’t think his voice will not be seen as authentic and perhaps even fake (Integrity norm).

Will Dick
Jun 12, 2008 10:58


I think you’re right on all points.

The case of Ron Paul may actually contradict my argument that a candidate’s success online depends on how they use technology. I have heard that Paul’s campaign knew little about web 2.0 tools, and that is net popularity grew very organically. Perhaps you know more about this.

Will Dick
Jun 12, 2008 12:14


First, I don’t think longer is better in itself. I just think length is a rough proxy for the insightfulness of a video, and that that is what viewers are looking for.

Second, I really don’t buy this idea that people on the Internet have short attention spans. YouTube videos tend to be short because the high quality long ones are often taken down for copyright violations. The number of TV channels I have has gone up by the hundreds, but my favourite shows have become longer (an hour vs half and hour).

Third, I think that McCain has lost legitimacy on YouTube less because of his policies, and more because he treats its users as dumb.

Jun 12, 2008 13:00

Nice work will. I would like to meet this “house of Politics majors and Obama supporters” and shake their hands.

Wikinomics » Blog Archive » Internet Skimming: Attention Deficit or Time Management?
Jun 12, 2008 17:00

[...] you’re going to be naked, you better be buff – A video diaryMore on Obama and wikinomicsObama’s YouTube Secret: Longer VideosThe customer should [...]

Jun 12, 2008 17:06

Yet another reason to love him.
I bet many of the long videos that get lots of hits are speeches. People love to see Obama’s speeches in their entirety, and those only air on TV once, if ever. Obama often puts his stump speeches up there as well. It’s a great way for him to showcase his strength and to let people see what he actually says on the trail, apart from the soundbites the media extracts. I bet that if McCain and Clinton did the same thing, they wouldn’t get nearly as many hits; their speeches aren’t as compelling and therefore aren’t as widely discussed.

Jun 16, 2008 22:04

Hi Will,

This is great research. You can also refer to detail analysis of Online video and its effect on the primaries this year. divinity Metrics has gone beyond the video uploaded by the campaigns themselves and have done a deep analysis of all the video uploaded by all the users from around the world.


I think they can also provide you with additional research information about the average length + views of the videos uploaded by users on YouTube.

David Dillon
Jun 17, 2008 0:39

Johnson, amazing link. Thank you.

Jun 20, 2008 11:23

Watch you every move and what you say remember Clinton watched Kerry lose so she could run in four year. She might make sure you lose. I do want you in the white house Bob

Video Lecture (II): What is the ideal length of your video? « North Institute
Mar 25, 2009 16:25

[...] (But then again, there are those game highlights you can purchase for 99 cents.) According to Will Dick of Wikinomics, Obama attracts more viewers during the 2008 Campaign because of his longer videos. As a matter [...]

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