By announcing of the formation of his Presidential Exploratory Committee yesterday, Senator Barack Obama (D-Il.) took the first official step towards a run for the presidency . I’m not going to address the politics of this. Instead, I will focus on his media distribution mechanism. The announcement was made through a video hosted on Obama’s website. Or, to be more exact, the video was hosted by web video company Brightcove and aggregated to

Obama isn’t the first candidate of the ’08 race to use the web as a video distribution medium. In December, John Edwards announced his candidacy in his YouTube Tomorrow Begins Today video. On the surface there are numerous similarities between the YouTube and Brightcove sites. Both stream video, allow direct linking to videos, and also enable the video content to be embeded in 3rd party web pages (though I can’t seem to get it to work with WordPress). They allowed the candidates an easy method to distribute their message and ensure that the video can be aggregated to various sites.
But, as we look closer, the similarities quickly end. Brightcove primarily hosts professionally generated content, created by established media outlets like Dow Jones, Newsweek, and various TV networks. While the website invites content submitted by video bloggers, a quick scan didn’t find much “citizen” content.

YouTube is the opposite: user generated dwarfs profession content (not to mention that much of the professional content has been captured and, illegally, posted by members of the viewing audience). Community participation is at the core of YouTube model, and it creates a very different sharing space than Brightcove. YouTube allows viewers to leave public comments on videos. While Obama’s page only contains the video announcement, Edward’s annoucement is accompanied by a discussion of more than 88 postings, pro and con, from people who have watched the video. That is only the beginning.

Both sites feature links to related content from their pages. Obama’s announcement on Brightcove only references other videos that his campaign has posted. That is in stark contrast to the page which contains Edwards’ announcement. Following the YouTube model, a wide range of user generated content associated with John Edwards is linked on the page, including these three videos:

  • RE: Tomorrow Begins TodayBrian Russell ( and Ruby Sinreich (, two activist Bloggers speak in support of Edwards campaign. There are a number of other pro-Edwards postings.
  • Response to John Edwards – A woman in New York State attacks the Universal Health Care proposal Edwards made as part of his Tomorrow Begins Today speech.
  • John Edwards 2008? – A self identified Democrat from North Carolina (Edward’s Home State) who proclaims Edwards “unelectable.”

These examples highlight an interesting problem for candidates: while YouTube offers tools to manage posting comments, you cannot control what content your page links to. In going to “where the people are,” you leave yourself open to direct commentary from the people. Counter-commentary may be located directly beside your stumping. Contrast this to Brightcove’s promise of control, an interface that does not link directly to intertextual documents. Additionally, even when you find commentary on Brightcove, it is coming from established sources. While you might get criticized it is coming from the media, rather than the people you are trying to reach.

Note that these implications can be projected onto the videos themselves. Some have called attention to Edwards’ decision to speak extemporaneously, on location in New Orleans versus Obama’s use of a controlled backdrop and a prepared speech and teleprompter — organic contact with the people versus control over environment and message.

Ultimately, the candidates may find that hopes for controlling their distribution is a pipe dream. In less than 24 hours, more than 17 “bootlegged” versions of the Obama video have surfaced on You Tube. Almost all of them have, individually, received more viewings than the original video at Brightcove. And, a search for “Barack Obama Announcement” also includes a link to a Right Wing radio show host offering counter commentary.