Donald Trump crammed a lot into his first video address as the president-elect—about trade agreements, jobs, and visa programs. But his most important words were largely glossed over at the end: “I will provide more updates in the coming days as we work together to Make America Great Again.”
Released directly on YouTube (GOOG, GOOGL) and Facebook (FB), Trump’s video address again bypassed traditional media outlets—and annoying (to him) press conferences—by using Silicon Valley’s platforms to get his message directly to the public, as he did throughout his campaign on Twitter (TWTR) and Facebook. With that casual promise of more to come, his first “Transition 2017” post was likely the subtle debut of “Trump TV.”
While Trump does not have the free time to start his rumored cable-like TV network, there’s no reason to think the president-elect has ditched the idea of “Trump TV.” With existing technological infrastructure already at his—and everybody’s—fingertips, he can be on everybody’s wall and in everybody’s pocket without even upgrading his Android (though he appears to have invested in a quality camera). And in addition to harnessing the voting bloc that won him the election, he’ll have a captive audience of people who did not vote for him.
It may not be a real Fox News competitor, but it’s surely Trump TV.
There is every indication that Trump’s promise to keep these updates coming is sincere. He already indicated that he will keep tweeting as president. “It’s a great form of communication,’’ he said on “60 Minutes.” “Facebook and Twitter and, I guess, Instagram, I have 28 million people.’’
By the time he’s sworn in, his unprecedented direct line to the general public—unprecedented because Barack Obama didn’t have any interest in typing his own tweets—will be even bigger.
Not relying on traditional media to make announcements means that Trump’s network of social media accounts—Twitter, Facebook video, YouTube—could become required viewing for all, if you don’t want to wait for the news to percolate down to the news agencies. That’s already been a hallmark of the Trump campaign: his pick for vice president was announced on Twitter a day before the news conference.
Having a direct line to the people also makes him more intelligible. Throughout the election, Trump benefited from social media and video coverage that allowed people to hear him in context, not read him. In written form, his idiosyncratic style, replete with repetition and gestures, challenged many transcribers.
To some, this unexpected launch of Trump TV may seem like a version of an Orwellian state-sponsored media, a direct line from Number One to his subjects. The feed, needless to say, will be the musings of a politician without context, reporting, moderation, or opposing viewpoints. But existing in the framework of American society, First Amendment, and other Facebook and YouTube videos adjacent in newsfeeds, Trump TV wears the more familiar clothes of a politician on a soapbox than Big Brother.
One thing Trump TV, so far, does not have in common with actual television is ad dollars, and so far, there is no indication that fits into his strategy, despite musings on the campaign trail that they should have paid him $5 million for a primary debate because of the tremendous ratings he brings.
However, if he really wanted, Trump could probably monetize his audience by putting ads in front of these videos. The Constitution says the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union,” and as White House Chief Digital Officer Jason Goldman wrote earlier this year, “You’ll notice that exactly how the President is supposed to share the State of the Union (SOTU) is left unspecified.”
This allowed Obama to use GIFs and Genius and other technology as his administration saw fit, like streaming the SOTU on Amazon (AMZN) (for free). Though it could stir up a backlash—Trump making the public wait five seconds before being allowed to hit a “skip” button right now wouldn’t be the most controversial thing he’s done.
An ad-sponsored State of the Union, of course, a logical extreme, seems unlikely—there are far more lucrative and subtle ways to a make money from a presidency—but a vibrant Trump delivering a steady stream of video addresses seems a foregone conclusion.
The president-elect has already said he wants to continue his rallies, and The New York Times reported that his aides are trying to figure out how that’s possible. This would be a way for Trump to talk directly to people and still maintain a busy schedule. He could speak to the camera, whether scripted or off-the-cuff, for a quick video on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, shot by an aide, similar to the brief videos he’s done over the years from his desk at Trump tower.
At this stage, it’s hard to see the future at all, of Trump or whatever form Trump TV might take. But one thing is clear: America will stay tuned.