Obama team tailors State of the Union for age of Twitter and YouTube – Los Angeles Times

Posted: Sunday, January 18, 2015

As President Obama worked on his State of the Union address last week, his staff sent out an email blast to ask the public what should be in it. The White House hyped nearly every recent major policy announcement — on LinkedIn and other websites.

After Obama delivers his vision for the country Tuesday, he’ll underscore the message through interviews — with a teen style guru, a video blogging nerd and a green-lipstick-wearing comedian who says she’s ready because she’s watched “Veep.”

They are YouTube stars.

The State of the Union address is a century-old tradition that has served to set the president’s agenda for the coming year and reflect on the previous one in front of Congress and the country, but in 2015, just giving a speech in prime time is no longer enough. The platform that introduced to the world the Four Freedoms and the War on Poverty is now a Twitter-friendly, YouTube-able event to be consumed in as many ways as Americans have screens.

The current state of the State of the Union is either the handiwork or the fault of the Obama White House, depending on your point of view.

This White House believes it brought the civic ritual into the social age, adapting as necessary to keep it relevant. Others say the speech, as an annual American moment, is going the way of the fireside chat.

“Social media is killing the State of the Union,” said presidential historian Allan Lichtman, “and the White House is doing everything it can to use social media to keep it alive.”

Of course, Americans’ shifting media diet isn’t only diminishing the State of the Union. Television’s audience is ever-fracturing, with the Super Bowl remaining as one of the only widely consumed televised events.

Still, the ratings for the speech are stark.

Viewership has been on a slide for decades, hitting the lowest point last year since President Clinton’s final State of the Union address in 2000. Obama’s own high point for his annual address to Congress was in 2009, five weeks into his first term, when he got more than 52 million viewers. About 33 million watched last year, the second lowest total of viewers the speech saw since the Nielsen ratings started tracking presidential speeches in 1993, when 67 million tuned in to watch Clinton address Congress about a month after his inauguration.

The White House says its solution is to find the missing 30-some-million television viewers wherever they are. That means producing an “enhanced version” of the speech to run online or for mobile devices. (The enhancement is a split-screen that juxtaposes the president at the lectern with charts backing up his assertions or photos of hardworking, sympathetic Americans.)

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