Downing St on YouTube: Allo Allo!

I received a tip-off late last week about the launch of Downing Street’s channel on YouTube. I had a lot to do over the weekend; so I didn’t write it up immediately – and I’m very glad I waited.
When it launched on Friday, it was a curious mix of mini-documentaries, recent speeches, clips of TV appearances, and miscellaneous public events. Mostly material we’d already seen on the website, and (interestingly) not all of it featuring Mr Blair himself. Here’s one example featuring Douglas Alexander – a man reportedly not especially enamoured of Downing Street’s more ambitious web efforts of late. A little in-joke, perhaps? 😉
Then suddenly, whilst we’re all off enjoying our Bank Holiday, two video messages welcoming Nicolas Sarkozy to the top table of European politics: one in English, l’autre en francais (and longer too). And interestingly, at the time of writing this, the French version has had five times more traffic. We see a Prime Minister not only prepared to take a bit of a presentational risk… but to say as much in the opening few seconds. It’s hard work making him out at times, to be honest: the intonation isn’t quite right in places, and the style suggests it has been professionally translated from an English original. He doesn’t seem too comfortable with the jokey opening. But regardless, full marks to him for having a crack at it.
The direct-to-‘webcam’ chat, the domestic setting, the open-necked casual shirt… this is classic YouTube material, albeit with slightly better production. And it actually works.
Why is he doing this? Partly, one imagines, because he’s in winding-down mode. Partly to ensure he can claim to have been the first PM to embrace ‘narrowcasting’ video like this. But also, one suspects, because it’s a chance to communicate directly avec le peuple francais. The French media won’t be interested in another message of congratulation from another world leader: Sarkozy probably had over 100 waiting for him this morning. But the French public might… even if it’s only to watch a rosbif struggle heroically with their language. This is very astute use of the medium.
Can you imagine this continuing after transition? I very much doubt it. But good on the web team at No10 for using this opportunity to lay down precedents. Going first in Civil Service circles is next to impossible; but it’ll be so much easier, and perhaps even expected, when the next Cabinet minister decides to address the people via YouTube.
As people realise the channel exists, it’ll undoubtedly get criticised for the inability to add comments to videos, and the inability to embed (the majority of) the videos into others’ pages. The former is understandable: it’ll just be the usual pointless point-scoring. The latter is harder to justify, and will cost them visibility. (I see the French one can be embedded, though.) Maybe the policy will soften in time.
It’s going to be an interesting week in British politics. We’re expecting an announcement of historic proportions before next weekend. They couldn’t be thinking of breaking the story on YouTube… could they?

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