When I was 18 and preparing to cast the first vote of my life, I wanted to gather as much information as I could about the issues and the candidates. So I went to the usual suspects: newspaper, radio and, of course, TV.
These days, many voters also turn to the Internet. That's not brand-new: John McCain used the Internet to raise money during his 2000 presidential campaign, as did Howard Dean in 2004. By now, no politician would be without a Website featuring a bio, a list of position statements, photographs, some video. But the full potential of the Internet—and especially streaming video—is just beginning to be tapped.
According to a survey of political consultants by the nonprofit E-Voter Institute, 32% plan to spend more than 20% of their campaign ad budgets online in 2008, but only 12 % of them expect to spend that much in this election year. Yet another survey, in which 250,000 voters participated, indicated that two-thirds of respondents expected candidates to use the Internet for fundraising, to post video commercials on Websites, and to run online ad campaigns.
The Internet can and will fundamentally change the nature of campaigning, the involvement of the electorate, even who campaigns for office: It need no longer be just the independently wealthy who can afford to run. Local media Websites will also benefit, when politicians increase their online presence and online-ad buys.
One example: WorldNow provides video streaming for the Website of WPTV West Palm Beach, Fla., which hosted televised debates. Many Florida residents live in other states part of the year, and, by providing live streaming video of the debates—archived until Election Day—the station enables them to stay involved.
Local TV-station and newspaper Websites should be sitting up and paying attention. Online political-ad buys are the wave of the future, promising new sources of revenue and new audience growth.
Consortiums like WorldNow's Local Media Network provide access to hundreds of local media sites with one ad buy. Politicians can reach a nationwide audience while customizing their message to individual markets.
Ironically, the worldwide reach of the Web and the ease of streaming video allow politicians to do what they've tried to do all along: persuade one voter at a time to “Vote for me.”