2020 hopefuls hunt for viral moments

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A few minutes of a viral video last year lifted Beto O’Rourke from well-known Senate candidate to potential presidential heavyweight. Now, his 2020 Democratic rivals are keenly aware that a single moment could launch them to the top tier of the primary — and they are making sure they’re ready to capture it.

NowThis, a social-first media outlet that averaged 2.5 billion views last month, spliced up four minutes of O’Rourke explaining his support for Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling criminal justice protests during NFL games and delivered it to its largely progressive, millennial audience, reaching nearly 20 million views on Twitter alone and prompting a talk-show invite from Ellen DeGeneres. It was a watershed moment in O’Rourke’s rise to political stardom, expanding his national appeal to the point that his campaign raised over $200,000 online every single day until the election, something he’d done only a handful of times in the previous year on the trail, according to a POLITICO analysis of campaign finance records.

Now, viral video outlets including NowThis are poised to play a key role in shaping the Democratic presidential primary, introducing 2020 candidates to their massive social followings and turning contenders into trends. And the massive field of presidential campaigns — hungry to be the “now” and “this” of 2020 — are preparing to capitalize on these moments, making digital staffers early and senior-level hires, trailing their candidates with videographers and pitching footage to these outlets.

“If I were [a 2020 presidential campaign], I’d put all my time into thinking about — how can I make viral videos?” said Matthew Segal, the co-founder of ATTN:, another digital media company that averages nearly 2 million views per video. “There’s going to be another floor debate moment, another hearing moment or another moment when an Iowa voter yells at them and they have a great exchange, so if those can be clipped, packaged and released, then it can raise a candidate a ton of money.”

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