Imagine an online streaming “virtual” Democratic National Convention.
If what you’re envisioning looks a lot like a regular Presidential nominating convention, but without a live audience and with a less impressive backdrop, please recuse yourself from the Joe Biden campaign.
Personally, I’m picturing something a little bit like this past weekend’s One World: Together At Home special, curated by Lady Gaga.
There could be hours of programming during the afternoon and early evening—no speeches, but brief conversations, presentations, pre-filmed segments, and live performances. Each hour would center on a theme, and be co-hosted by a popular Democrat and a celebrity.
All of that would lead up to an hour or two in prime time, carried by the broadcast networks, that super-sizes the same format. Bernie Sanders might co-host an hour; Elizabeth Warren might answer viewer emails; Cory Booker might interview people “making a difference” in racial justice; Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg might present, and comment on, delegates’ TikTok videos.
Maybe my vision isn’t the winning one—I’m not an expert in online engagement and community building. But others are. This is a golden age of creative content and connectivity. If Biden puts those people, rather than the old political consultants, to work planning a purely online, virtual convention, he could build something new that might accomplish far more.
Biden and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) have already pushed back the dates for the convention, from mid-July to mid-August. They are still hoping to hold it at Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum, but that notion should be jettisoned. Most Americans might have emerged from their isolation cocoons by then and returned to some measure of social interaction, but that doesn’t mean it will make sense to gather tens of thousands of people from literally everywhere in the country, mixing them together in one building, and sending them back home.
Biden is already talking about some manner of stripped-down convention. That could end up seeming listless, bush-league, or just depressing—especially because Trump, clearly desperate to get in front of big, adoring crowds again, will probably go ahead with a full-blown, pack-‘em-in, rah-rah rally convention, scheduled for a the week immediately after the new DNC dates.
Think of how poorly the out-of-power party’s response usually comes across, in comparison to the pomp and atmospherics of the President’s State of the Union address. And, how few watch.
Rather than compete with Trump’s old-fashioned cheer and holler political rally, better for Biden to ditch the whole thing and build something entirely new and different.
I would recommend stealing a page from Lady Gaga, and other cause-based programs, from the old Jerry Lewis Labor Day telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association to this week’s 11-hour Earth Day Network livestream.
Put on a virtual show
“One World: Together At Home” aired last Saturday evening on ABC, CBS, NBC, and a plethora of cable networks and streaming platforms. Lady Gaga recruited an amazing lineup of musical performances and celebrity appearances.
And preceding the prime time special were no fewer than six hours of livestreaming content, available on YouTube, Facebook, Twitch, and just about every other platform used by the cool and uncool alike. That, too, featured plenty of big stars.
People could tune in and out all afternoon, catching what appealed or held their interest, all building to the shared prime-time viewing experience. That’s not unlike how national nominating conventions work, at least in theory.
But ditching the stage and audience, and planning purely online, opens additional possibilities. Democrats can engage viewers—not simply re-enact the stage experience from a basement studio.
“The interactive aspect is easier as a virtual thing,” says Scott Ferson, political consultant and founder of Liberty Square Group. “Conventions are very much me-me-me. You don’t have to introduce Joe Biden, or Donald Trump. This should almost be listening more than talking.”
Ferson’s idea of Biden ending the convention a la Lewis, crooning “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” might be a bit much, but he’s got a good point about interactivity.
And fortunately, performers and celebrities have been out there demonstrating examples, working out through trial and error how to engage with their fans, and even gain new ones, during the shutdown. From episode watchalongs to soliciting creative input, there’s a lot more than just livestreaming themselves playing tunes.
Democrats can also use the online options to target compelling content to tailored to certain viewers, rather than just showing what’s on stage to everybody.
Interested in rural issues? Click her to join our Zoom panel on that. Reside in Colorado? Your state’s delegates have a special presentation for you about to air on Facebook Live. Interested in Biden’s tax plan? Click for a program that estimates how much it will save your household.
And, don’t be afraid to use celebrity performances as the glue to hold it all together. As those cause-based specials have shown, people will sit through a lot of your content to see their favorite stars sing. I’d ask Gaga to perform, but maybe that’s just me.