YouTube Gets No $, but Good PR

Posted January 13, 2009 at 6:28pm

In trying to get rid of any appearance of product endorsement before jumping on the YouTube bandwagon, Congress has inadvertently left standing one significant endorsement: YouTube itself.

After more than a year of hearings and countless arguments, Members can now post homemade videos to a section of YouTube that has been scrubbed clean of any paid advertisers. All that’s left is the promotional material for the host site.

The video-sharing company makes no money off the deal. But in return for the ad-free Web pages, Congressional leaders are advising Members to use the House and Senate YouTube channels for their official videos.

The site is thus becoming a one-stop shop for all House and Senate video content — and the company has been able to promote itself that way.

But House and Senate officials stress that the partnership with YouTube is not exclusive.

It’s just the first step, they say, in enabling Members to post official content on third-party Web sites without worrying about violating franking rules that prohibit product endorsement and partisanship.

“YouTube was one of the first free video-sharing sites to offer this free service without advertising,” said Kyle Anderson, spokesman for House Administration Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.). “We are exploring ways to engage other video sites to provide the same with the end result being broad and unfettered access to information.”

Just two months ago, Members technically were prohibited from posting their official videos on YouTube or any other third-party site, mostly because of the host’s advertisements and partisan leanings. Many did it anyway, and they were rarely reprimanded.

For more than a year, House and Senate officials worked to update the chambers’ rules so Members could use services such as YouTube, Flickr and Facebook. The final product was a rule that allows Members to use any third-party Web site for hosting pictures, videos and other official content as long as they follow franking rules.

But before the rules passed, YouTube representatives were already talking to the House franking commission about hosting sanitized channels for Congress. Now, YouTube’s House and Senate “hubs” are the only Web sites preapproved by Congressional officials.

That means many Members will never go beyond YouTube — at least not immediately. The sanitized House and Senate channels are now the easiest way to post videos, and Members can link to them from their .gov Web site with the assurance that they’re not breaking House rules.

“It was just an easy fit and made sense. A lot of Members use YouTube,” said Nick Schaper, director of new media for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). “It’s the same reason we try to get op-eds in places like the Washington Post.”

The YouTube Web sites allow users to search for their Member of Congress using a Google map of the United States. Each Member maintains his or her own YouTube page, deciding whether to allow user comments and how often to update videos.

It’s hard to imagine that most Members will post their videos anywhere else.

But Schaper said the rules will allow Congress to “react like the rest of the world and adapt to new and emerging technology.”

That sentiment was echoed by Howard Gantman, spokesman for outgoing Senate Rules and Administration Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who helped revise the Web rules during her tenure.

With the YouTube deal, he said, the committee is setting up a procedure that can be used with a variety of social networking sites.

“In the future, there could be other options,” he said. “Before the most recent revision of the Senate rules, it had been 2005 since they were last revised. At that time, YouTube was in its infancy.”