I interview the company behind Senator John McCain’s new online video program – Sorenson Media’s CEO and CTO Peter Csathy and Mike Flathers. They share their work with the McCain their using their flagship products – Sorenson Squeeze, Sorenson 360, and Sorenson Squish and SquishNet. They also claim that a user-generated video offering is not only a major advantage for any political campaign, but they say that it’s a lot simpler and budget-conscious than people might think.

Yesterday, I reported that Senator John McCain campaign team had revamped their own website and was showcasing a new online video strategy right on that same website – A “Video Supporter Wall” right on their home page.  They say they want to encourage a dialogue with the voters of Arizona and allow a video voice to McCain’s supporters as well as have a place where supporters can submit their own videos directly to the website.

This was done with the aid of the video delivery network solutions provider – Sorenson Media. We’ve done a substantial amount of coverage already with Sorenson as well as interviews about their post-production video products (and that includes exporting, optimizing, hosting and distribution), but we haven’t really gotten in-depth with their user-generated video offerings (I like to refer to that with own acronym, “UGV.”).  That’s what was used to create the Video Supporter Wall for the John McCain website via their Squish and SquishNet products, and you can see it in action there at johnmccain.com/supporters.

This quote was taken from the Sorenson/McCain2010 press release…

“With just a few clicks, visitors to the site can record a message on their webcam or upload a video to appear on our ‘Supporter Wall’… The wall will contain hundreds and eventually thousands of videos from fellow Arizonans sharing why they believe Senator McCain must be re-elected to the U.S. Senate.”

Corey Vale, Internet Marketing Director for the McCain 2010 Senate campaign, told me in a separate interview that they couldn’t have done their video solution without Sorenson’s help.

“They provide the technology in many ways just off-the-shelf, where it required very little customization for us to create not just a video wall, but a workflow behind the scenes – to be able to get the videos ingested, encoded, then pulling them up in a backend admin where I can add metadata and do the things that I need to do before they’ve been put up on the wall.  All of that workflow is provided by Sorenson, and something that we didn’t have to recreate and build. Sorenson sort of had the off-the-shelf tools that allowed us to do it almost exactly the way we envisioned it. So it was just a good combination.”

My Interview with Sorenson Media (podcast at bottom)

Peter Csathy, President – Sorenson Media

Peter Csathy, President – Sorenson Media

Grant: Have you seen the idea of the “supporter (video) wall” done on websites in other political campaigns?

Peter: We’re not aware of anything like this for political campaigns. The video wall is a great implementation and something that’s completely innovate, but it’s just the starting point of all the things that can be done with our video solutions.

Grant: What would you say are the advantages of having a UGC video model for political campaigns?

Peter: The advantages are that now you have true interactivity. The supporters now have a voice in what’s going on. It’s not just one-way, it’s two-way. It’s a dialogue, going back and forth. And the medium of video is very different from anything else out there. Text-based blogs, while interesting, are not nearly as impactful as video. Video as a medium, whether is political campaigns or marketing campaigns – whatever you’re selling, marketing, showcasing (or running for) – nothing is going to be as effective viscerally to the viewer as video.

Grant: What Sorenson products went into making the McCain Video Supporter Wall?

Mike Flathers, CTO – Sorenson Media

Mike Flathers, CTO – Sorenson Media

Mike: It’s really a combination of Squish, SquishNet, and our API with 360. Squish is used for client-side encoding and compression within the browser. Then it handles the delivery of the 360 network as well. It interacts with SquishNet to basically say: ‘hey, this new video that’s here, its in the approval queue’. So the McCain staffers can go in, and look at the videos, and then click a button to say, ‘I approve this video’, and then all of a sudden it becomes available on the supporter wall. That’s all done with API-level communication between the McCain site and SquishNet. SquishNet is the broker, if you will, between our 360 solution and the McCain website.

Grant: Was this something that required custom development and working with their own developers?

Mike: They used a traditional agency/web-shop for their CMS (Content Management System), but that agency didn’t really have any video experience of their own. They were able to take our product, our API, and literally with just 15-25 lines of code, implement that whole Video Wall within their application. So yes, there was some development, but it was minimal development that they had to do. We provided them with all the tools for them via our API. Literally it was just a few lines of code. Of course they had to do all of the styling and everything. But to get the content, manage the content, the approval workflow, ingest the content – that was all provided by us out-of-the-box.

Grant: Can this type of video setup be advantageous (and cost-feasible) for those on a lower political rung than a popular state (congressional) senator, like McCain?

Peter: Absolutely. Our solution is not limited to level of a candidate or a high-profile campaign. It brings in the elements of different kind of content, which because its video content means its more engaging with more interactivity, and it gives a two-way communication. It’s not just the candidate and the campaign speaking to the faithful or the hope-for faithful. But it also allows for the supporters to have their own voice, influencing others. And that’s across-the-board applicable to whether its a congressional campaign or a state-district campaign.

There are other things that can be done with it that the McCain campaign hasn’t done yet, in terms of propagating those videos over the Internet. Outside of the walled garden of the campaign website, we have all the toolsets that can implement that, too. The McCain campaign chose to not implement that in that fashion, because everybody is going to have their own vision.

What we’re talking about on the high-level here is that it has applicability to campaigns of any size, and beyond that.

Political is one thing, but having the kind of video wall functionality that they’ve seen, they’re now imaging all of the things that can be done with that for marketing campaigns, for content, things like that.

Mike: And on a tactical level and implementation level, it plays well into some of these smaller campaigns. But I see where you’re coming with if the McCain campaign had the wherewithal and the money to spend, and so forth. The reality is that its so simple to implement given our toolset, that without a doubt its within reach and accessible to a campaign of any size.

Peter: The reality of it being just a few lines of code. That was they way we built it and the charge that we had as a team, to create these APIs to make them drop-dead simple, to make it really easy so that anybody can do it. So its not just limited to those at the highest level

Grant: We’re doing it in a standard-space way as well (with the API), so there’s not something new to learn. Pretty much, any CMS can assume them without any problem.

Grant: Here’s a search engine optimization Question: Does SquishNet have the capability to utilize its UG video content for SEO purposes?

Mike: That is an absolute “yes.” Right now the McCain campaign has chosen to keep all of their videos within their walled garden. But the videos, the metadata – everything – is totally accessible (to the search engines).

(Grant: It appears that none of the videos are indexed within Google as far as we can see, perhaps that is something in the works or the McCain campaign has decided not to leverage that capability)

SquishNet is sort of the middleman brokering this. But we support an RSS feed, so they can be exposed via RSS in a couple different flavors (of RSS). So we do give a multimedia capability in addition. All that metadata is there. You can do it with a webcam or a video you already have, do it with client-side encoding and compression, push it up to 360, and then it gets brought up to a page where you have metadata. That form you’re brought to is what the McCain camp has decided to collect from people. That form can have any amount of metadata on it. That form then gets pushed into SquishNet. SquishNet correlates that with the video on 360. Then it’s all available via the RSS feed, or our traditional API as well. So we make it very easy to syndicate that.

Grant: Have you gotten any other interest from any other political campaigns? Do you think this will encourage people who are running for office, to consider a professional-quality video campaign and work with a professional OVP/VDN?

Peter: Absolutely yes. We are already working with others at the state and federal level. We’ve had more inquiries since this story broke. Beyond that too, there’s also a thirst for campaigns to be innovators. That’s primarily at the federal level, but to be innovators when it comes to their Web presence and their interactivity.

Let’s face it… the Obama campaign, and how successful it was (in the 2008 presidential campaign) – that really opened the eyes of all kinds of people about the kind of possibilities that the Internet can enable, or empower, to attract a wider base. So now you see the thinking with political campaign, especially at the federal level, is to extend the boundaries of what has already been done. And video is a natural place to go there. So you see the video wall here.

What’s going to be next? As long as something is seen as being successful, they’re going to be replicated, too.