On his current visit to San Francisco, today former United States Vice President Al Gore swung through local PBS radio affiliate KQED for an hour-long appearance on the program Forum With Michael Krasny.
It was an interesting and wide-ranging conversation, as Krasny’s interviews often tend to be. But one part in particular was especially interesting from a TechCrunch point of view, when Gore was asked about the environment of corruption, bribery, and lobbying that seems to be as strong as ever in today’s U.S. government.
Gore said that this is indeed a growing issue that will need to be addressed on several levels. He then pointed to the Internet as being one of the most important tools that can help reverse this trend (I’ve embedded the entire audio at the bottom of this post, and this particular bit starts at minute 33:55.) He said:
“Over time, the rise of the Internet will inexorably diminish the role of money in politics, which is driven today in significant measure by the need on the part of politicians to amass these huge war chests primarily for buying 30-second television advertisements.
And as the Internet becomes more prominent and eventually the central way in which we communicate, it does bring the promise of re-empowering individuals to play their roles as citizens and to revitalize representative democracy.”
First, the good news
Now, that sounds great, and this type of outcome would no doubt be good for our nation as a whole. Gore is correct that 30-second television spots politicians today must buy are very expensive, and take up a lot of campaign money. That money could certainly go toward better causes than blasting the nice people of Ohio and other swing states with ads 24/7 for entire months leading up to key national elections.
And now, the bad news
However, Al Gore’s view of the future also seems to imply something else: Internet advertising will never grow to be as lucrative as television advertising. According to Gore, in the future politicians won’t need to accept bribes or be beholden to lobbyists because they just won’t need as much money for ads as they do now. Underlying this is the assumption that either web ads won’t ever be as expensive as TV ads, or that ads won’t be needed because Internet audiences won’t be as susceptible to them as TV audiences are. Maybe it’s a mix of both.
Either way, that sounds bad for many people looking to make an ad-supported living on the web. Many folks in the Internet world are counting on the idea that as audiences for TV and other traditional media decline, the ad dollars that went there — whether they’re spent by consumer brands or politicians — will eventually instead be poured into the web at relatively similar numbers. A common belief is that, sure, some things about ad technology for the web and mobile devices need to be figured out (and hopefully the smart people at a company like Facebook will lead the way) but once they are, the big money will follow. It bears mention that ads are what make a significant part of our economy go ’round, especially when it comes to media organizations as well as sites such as Google, Twitter and Facebook. Political ads play a big part of that ecosystem today, especially in election years.
But Gore’s theory seems based on the thought that advertising, at least on the political level, just won’t ever be as strong on the Internet as it is today on the television. Period. If he turns out to be right, it is yet another reminder that those of us who make a living on the web should be looking to make ends meet with more than just advertising dollars.