YouTube: Now for Political Junkies

The video site is jumping on the election coverage bandwagon, with mixed results

Even as YouTube pumps $100 million into original content, it's unlikely that every one of its 100 new channels can or will succeed. Take it's recently launched Politics channel. Despite the heavy interest in political video among consumers and advertisers, and despite lining up eight major media partners including ABC News and The New York Times, the early returns have been decidedly hit or miss.

For example, YouTube pundit Philip DeFranco’s channel often sees tens of thousands of views, while BuzzFeed, the Times and ABC News sometimes garner no more than a few hundred.

“Basically, [YouTube] is not driving any views at all,” said a staffer from one of the Politics channel partners. “The real problem is that [YouTube] has no editorial sensibility at all. It’s a bureaucracy. They need the minutes; they don’t care about content.”

Digital video analysts pointed out that YouTube is still in an experimental stage as it curates content that’s produced on a daily, even hourly basis.

“There is very good content but also bad, homegrown content,” said Eric Frenchman, chief Internet strategist, Connell Donatelli. “At the end of the day, I think people will still go directly to their favorite sites, but it is a good exercise for them to take advantage of the dollars and eyeballs moving online.”

Overall, YouTube video views are climbing steadily, partly due to the inclusion of nonmedia partner videos from heavyweights like President Obama (TV ad “The Do-Over” has scored nearly 850,000 views) and viral videos like that of Congressman Todd Akin’s (R-Mo.) “legitimate rape” apology, which has racked up 244,000 views and counting in one week.

A YouTube spokesperson said that YouTube was “very happy” with how the politics effort was going, stressing that it would continue to promote the hub with viewers. “It’s a long-term play that we hope is a great resource for people between now and November 6,” the rep said.

YouTube isn’t alone in its quest for more video views from politics. From livestreaming to Google Hangout chats, digital natives and traditional media alike are lavishing time and effort on a slew of new platforms to grow their audience and attract advertisers.

“There’s been a big movement across the board in the political online space as preroll ads have reached a tipping point in the last year and advertiser interest has escalated,” said Josh Marshall, publisher of Talking Points Memo.

Most digital political video is lacking in entertainment value and rarely goes viral, but analysts said it would be foolish to dismiss YouTube’s digital effort, with all the election-night exposure there is to be gained.

“Online viewing of the debates and election coverage overall will break every record on every device,” predicted media consultant Bernard Gershon, formerly of ABC News. “It’ll be astounding.”