*Net Convention Coverage More Hype Than Reach

When delegates and supporters swarm the Democratic National Convention, which begins today at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, 100 dot-com media companies will crowd the so-called Internet Alley and dissect the events with interactive Webcasts.

Internet media firms like Voter.com, BeHere.com and online arms of traditional giants such as Tribune Co. will give Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore a fresh marketing tool and a worldwide reach.

However, it is unlikely Gore or his GOP opponent, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, will be able to use the Web like John F. Kennedy used television in 1960 to seduce voters during the first televised debate.

There are parallels between the impact of television in the 1960 presidential election and Internet campaigning this year. But a combination of complications is holding back the Web’s marketing power from the candidates, said Jay Stanley, analyst of Internet policy and regulation at Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA.

Stanley said the Internet is a shiny tool that candidates are using to tap voters and push agendas, “but to say [Internet marketing of platforms] will leave politics forever changed – that is exaggeration and hype. It’s not going to bring a glorious new age.”

Internet coverage of the Democratic National Convention will incorporate an assortment of multimedia and interactive gadgets, including the Be Here 360-degree Internet camera coverage on Dems2000.com, Los Angeles, the official site of the Democratic National Convention.

This interactive camera allows users to control what they see – giving them the ability to zoom in and out and look around the Staples Center while experiencing audio and video streams.

The technology may be sexy, but its market reach is short. Only a small population of Internet users – those with access to broadband connections – will be able to follow this brand of multimedia Internet coverage from their home computers.

In a research study dated July 11, research firm IDC, Framingham, MA, reported that fewer than 2 million Internet users in the United States and Canada have broadband access at home.

There’s no guarantee that this elite, Web-savvy group will want to tune in to the convention anyway. “How many [of these] people are actually interested enough to sit in front of their monitors and watch the convention online?” Stanley asked. He predicted that only a handful of broadband-happy, “hard-core political junkies” would tune in to the multimedia convention features at Dems2000.com.

While the full marketing potential of a broadband Internet election campaign probably won’t be realized until the 2004 White House race – IDC reports that nearly 18 million households will be wired for broadband by 2003 – voters with the wimpiest modems still can volunteer and make campaign contributions.

In addition to pushing its own agenda and ripping Bush with a variety of news stories and video clips, Democrats.org, the official site of the Democratic National Committee, is collecting names, e-mail addresses and money.

The committee is offering “President Clinton: The Final Days” on video as an incentive for contributions of $25 or more. The contribution page prompts donors to reveal their names, e-mail and home addresses, home phone numbers, occupations and places of employment.

Forrester Research has not completed an analysis yet of Democrats.org or Dems2000.com, but a study published in February reported that “candidates’ poorly designed Web sites undermine their efforts.”

GeorgeWBush.com, which Forrester scored an eight on a scale of -48 to 48, was ranked highest among the Web sites of lead candidates. This site was relaunched in July, and no report has been given since then.

Algore2000.com, Al Gore’s official Web site, was given a five on the same scale.

Forrester commended the site’s search capabilities, but anti-Gore Web sites appear higher on AltaVista.com and Yahoo.com search result pages when users type “Al Gore” into the search boxes of either search engine.

Forrester reported that both Gore’s and Bush’s Web sites scored well in enabling the most likely user goals. Contributing and volunteering links were accessible from nearly anywhere on both sites.

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