It’s the morning after the CNN/YouTube Democratic debate, and I’m watching Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, the founders of YouTube, struggle through an interview with Matt Lauer. First of all, they are techies, so probably not morning people, and this is sunrise in the East. They’re on Pacific time biorhythmically, and Eastern Daylight time at the moment for the show. They look a little like they slept in their clothes. And yet, they own a multi-billion dollar company that has just produced the biggest disruption in the political system since the Kennedy-Nixon debates.
Lauer, whom I like, asks them portentous old media questions, like “how will YouTube change the political debate?” They explain to him that two years ago, when they founded the company, they were trying to solve a problem they had sharing video with each other. They weren’t planning to change the world. They seem a little shell shocked that they have. Chen looks nervous as he tells Matt Lauer that in the beginning, they posted videos of their cats.
But they’re certainly not stupid, even though they are barely 30, and Hurley goes on to say that he thinks this is a good opportunity for politicians to engage in dialogue with voters, and to add some transparency to the political process. Lauer shows a bunch of videos in which candidates have been tripped up by videos posted to YouTube (like George Allen’s “macaca” moment, and the first Obama girl video). Clearly the candidates are no longer in control of the campaign as they used to be.
More important, neither are their consultants. This will be a very interesting election. To me, the debate revealed how far off some of the pollsters are in reading the American mood.
As the interview wound down, Matt Lauer asked the question in the back of every main stream media guy’s mind: “Will I still have a job?”
Hurley and Chen reassured him that they were only providing him more and better opportunities to be seen. He seemed unconvinced, although Lauer is ever the gracious host. “Next time you are in New York,” he tells them, “come see us in the studio.”
Chen and Hurley mentally look at each other: “what’s a studio?” they seem to be asking as they smile politely. The generations have quietly clashed.