Among many other firsts that Barack Obama can claim, he is also the first winner of a U.S. presidential election to have mastered the small screen.
Among many, many other firsts that Barack Obama can claim, he is also the first winner of a U.S. presidential election to have mastered the small screen. John F. Kennedy, of course, was widely considered the first "television president" because of his appearance in the first TV debate, and Ronald Reagan parlayed his Hollywood success into the presidency -- effectively making him the first "big screen" president (years later, Arnold Schwarzenegger followed in his footsteps as
big screen governor of California, a la Reagan who held that position in the 1960s.)
Although big-screen LCD, plasma, and rear projection TVs have become commonplace, the fact that movie screens for almost a century have been even bigger eclipses the "newness" of the medium. Big screen is old. What's new is the small screen, in a variety of forms. Number one is the cell phone screen, and it's text messaging capability -- a technology Obama played masterfully, culminating perhaps with the hokey yet effective announcement of his vice president via millions of text messages.
Web video is another form of small screen media. Though a computer screen these days may be bigger than 20", most people watch web videos in small windows, with resolution quite inferior to a typical TV set. As of election eve, the astoundingly personalized and funny MoveOn news video about Obama losing by a single vote (see Customized campaign videos provide glimpse of targeted TV's future) had been sent to some 15.3 million recipients -- that's more viewers than many major network prime time television programs have! According to CNN, the Obama campaign themselves released some 2,000 different online videos over the course of the campaign.
In mastering the newest of media in the small screen, Obama's campaign did not ignore older forms -- the fantastically well produced infomercial that blanketed U.S. airwaves the week before the election is testament to the campaign's respect for tradition, and the need to reach large segments of the public this way.
Marshall McLuhan said several decades ago that each new media form includes previous media within it, and that's certainly true of the small screen phenomenon. From movie trailers to clips from "The Daily Show" to the telegraph, the small screen is new media that incorporates older media.
The Obama campaign "got" this -- they operated on new and old media fronts -- and by effectively incorporating small screen media in their strategy, they've raised the bar for all future presidential campaigns. The small screen has arrived in a big way.