Voice of America falling behind RT on Facebook & YouTube – BBG Watch

Russia Today newsroom during a live program in English. (RIA Novosti/Evgeny Biyatov)
The US taxpayer-funded Voice of America is losing out to Russian multimedia broadcaster RT in popularity on social networks and services, according to analysis by BBG Watch, an independent watchdog blog that follows American media outreach abroad.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors, the United States’ bipartisan agency that supervises government-sponsored media, targeting international audiences, is being closely monitored by volunteers, “including many current and former employees of US international broadcasting,” who call themselves BBG Watch.

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The group compared social media statistics of what it described as the “coolest” videos from the American and the Russian media outlets posted during the first two weeks of May. They said they did so to get a better idea of how the rivals are doing their job in the “information war, at least in the competition between VOA and RT among English speaking social media users worldwide.”

This is not by any means a small or insignificant group and includes millions of media savvy and well educated people outside of the United States — Middle East, Africa, Eurasia, Latin America,” BBG Watch noted, pointing out that RT’s YouTube stats “do not appear to be driven primarily by US viewers.”

One of the video pairs in the “contest” was VOA’s “New Military Technology Goes Public,” about the Pentagon’s first ever Defense Department Lab Day versus RT’s “Putin puts his skates on for NHL, scores 8 goals.” The videos were posted at approximately the same time.

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Russian-made video got seven times more views and six times more likes on Facebook than the VOA one. The number of YouTube views was 21,471 for the Russian video and 485 for the American one.

Two more pairs of rival videos – featuring World War II Victory anniversary content, as well as a news interview and a news report – also demonstrated RT was significantly ahead in terms of both views and “likes” on social media.

Although the American media is generally accustomed to conducting an “information war” of its own essentially unrivaled, the latest results of "competition between VOA and RT" show that progress made by new rivals of US media does not go unnoticed.

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Last year, a meeting of US international media chiefs concluded that the crisis in Ukraine had shown that Russia was strong in getting its message across to international audiences, with the BBG having outlined the need for Washington to create a Russian-language TV news channel.

Obama foreign policy adviser Ben Rhodes has then mentioned "many different platforms," including YouTube and Twitter, which the Russians have been using widely in conjunction with TV broadcasting. Just months after the meeting, RT’s five YouTube channels combined have hit the 2 billion views benchmark, strengthening the channel’s role as the leading news provider on the popular video hosting service.

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In January, the new BBG chief Andrew Lack listed “Russia Today” (sic) in the same breath as the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and Boko Haram terror groups, having claimed that RT posed a significant challenge his agency was dealing with.

A month later, Secretary of State John Kerry asked US lawmakers for more money for propaganda and “democracy promotion” programs around the world, having directly referred to RT’s influence. RT’s budget for 2015 is 13.85 billion rubles (some $277 million, according to the current exchange rate). By contrast, the US government media receives $721 million.