Why YouTube's Election Hub is Fizzling

YouTube’s livestreaming Elections Hub received a swell of press coverage at launch, but come its first event - the Republican National Convention - the number of viewers was pitifully small. Do the low numbers result from the site's lack of an adult audience, the difficulty of generating political interest among younger viewers, or ineffective promotion? Turns out, it’s all those things.

YouTube partnered with big names for its Elections Hub: New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Al Jazeera English, ABC News, BuzzFeed, Univision, Larry King and YouTube favorite Philip DeFranco.  Every partner except for Buzzfeed, DeFranco and Al Jazeera English struggled to get 1000 views of its on-demand content during the RNC and leading up to its Democratic counterpart.    

Low Viewership is No Surprise

The low numbers aren't surprising, according to a YouTube spokesperson who requested anonymity, as site executives didn’t expect the Elections Hub to be an overnight success considering the average age of the YouTube demographic is in their teens.

“We're very happy with how the Elections Hub is going in these very early days of the political cycle,” wrote the spokesperson in a statement to RWW. “It's a long-term play that we hope is a great resource for people between now and November 6.” (The spokesperson added, “between live-stream views and views of on-demand video, there have been millions of views of the video on the YouTube Elections Hub since it launched on Wednesday,” but declined to provide specifics. It's likely those millions are solely DeFranco’s.)

Success with Internet-Savvy Audiences

The list of highest-performing partners - Al Jazeera English, BuzzFeed and DeFranco -  makes sense as all three have a strong Web presence and appeal to a young Internet-savvy audience. DeFranco, who is a YouTube staple, generated at least 50,000 views per video (approaching 1 million on some). Millennials have left comments on his political videos along the line of, “I’ve never voted before, but now I think I will.” DeFranco fans swing Democratic, judging by the relative popularity of his videos, so high viewership of his RNC coverage is telling of his charisma.

Conversely, YouTube Elections Hub shows that are meant to appeal to older audiences are failing. Some on-demand episodes of the Larry King Live Web show - presenting guests like Ben Stein and Tanya Acker -  have struggled to break 100 views.  Larry King has more than a million fans on Twitter, but apparently none of them are watching him on YouTube.

Ineffective Promotion

Nonetheless, YouTube is committed to the project. “We'll keep supporting the Hub with marketing and promotion on YouTube so that people know when major political moments are taking place, and they can check them out live,” the YouTube spokesperson wrote. 

This advertising strategy is problematic because YouTubers who are already on the site and interested in the election are clearly watching DeFranco’s coverage, and a DeFranco fan would not watch Larry King Live and may not have even heard of him. DeFranco heavily promotes his own shows and does not rely on the video site to promote his Elections Hub programming.

Many Election Hub partners are not promoting their own YouTube coverage themselves, perhaps relying on the Google-owned company to do it for them.  

Chaotic Partnerships

Even more confusing is the disunity: At press time, New York Times was livestreaming an interview with a pundit about the upcoming DNC through a video player on its own Politics front page, not through YouTube; visit the New York Times Election Hub page on YouTube and no stream of that interview can be found. Then there is a video of New York Times’ Jim Roberts interviewing BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith from the RNC floor on the impact of social media during this election cycle (President Obama on Reddit, tweets about Romney’s VP pick, Ryan) that has only 200 views. This video was not embedded on the New York Time’s site or even linked to BuzzFeed.

Checking the ABC News and Wall Street Journal sites reveals a similar lack of promotional coordination.

YouTube’s Election Hub won’t be the “long-term success” that the Google-owned company hopes for if the partners don’t bother doing the legwork themselves. Cross-promoting is social media (and YouTube) 101.