Election Night 2012: In Election Tech, the Battleground Goes DigitalNetworks look to more closely integrate on-air with online and mobile coverage 11/05/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern
With the 2012 campaign marking the first presidential
election where the majority of Americans own smartphones and are active on
social media, network coverage has moved a long way past the big question of
how much they should be doing for online, mobile and social media. It's now a
given that any viewer who wishes to will have unprecedented access to coverage
on multiple devices, with all the major broadcast networks streaming their
primetime coverage to multiple platforms.
But the crucial issue that remains "too close to call" at present is how well
these massive investments in digital media will improve overall election
coverage, at least according to many of the network executives interviewed by B&C.
If successful, that would provide a welcome change from the past, where at
least some online, mobile and social media efforts looked like technical
experiments that added little to the viewing experience.
"Our goal is to make sure that we are including social media in a way that is
truly additive," said David Beck, VP and general manager of social media
for Univision Communications. "Univision has made a huge commitment to
social and digital. But we are not going to be doing social for the sake of
social or digital for the sake of digital."
Vivian Schiller, senior VP and chief digital officer of NBC News, also stresses
the importance of taking a more mature approach to each platform that goes far
beyond simply boasting about the availability of content on multiple devices.
"NBC and all of our competitors want to be where the audience is,"Â Schiller said. "Everyone is
pursuing a multiplatform approach. But what we believe will set us apart is how
we are looking at each platform. We want to focus on what is unique about it
and why users are attracted to that particular delivery method so we can serve
One sign of the maturity of these digital efforts is the amount
of content the networks have made available on multiple devices, with extensive
streaming efforts and mobile playing a much larger role than they did in 2008.
"It's been said that [2012 is] the first social election, but we see it as the
first mobile election,"Â noted Doug Vance, VP of product
strategy at ABC News. "We've
put a big emphasis on making our content accessible to people on the go."
Another bellwether of the network's embrace
of digital media can be found in the widespread alliances it has cut with major
online and social media partners, added Joe Ruffolo, senior VP, ABC News
While networks had in the past been reluctant to make a lot of their content
available on outside platforms, due to concerns about the impact of moving
their audiences away from their own sites, this year they cut extensive
alliances with YouTube's Election Hub, Yahoo, Facebook, Xbox Live and Hulu that
will be streaming live coverage from broadcast networks.
Many of the networks will also be offering major improvements to their websites
and mobile apps. ABC, for example, has been adapting its interactive maps to
mobile screens and is deploying technologies that will allow the network to
deliver election news and results based on a user's location.
Many of these efforts are designed to better integrate networks' on-air efforts
with their social and digital efforts (See "Setting a New Political Stage").
PBS NewsHour, for example, has built around 900 maps for its online
Digital Map Center that includes a wide variety of demographic data to be used
in its Election Night coverage. "We wanted to provide our online audience with
the same set of information that our reporters will have,"Â notes Christina Bellantoni, political editor of the PBS
Meredith Artley, VP and managing editor of CNN.com, added that these cross-platform efforts can
freshen up network reporting and help avoid the dilemma that "political
journalism in election year can become a little formulaic."Â
For CNN, that has translated into significant improvements in its online,
mobile, social and on-air coverage, all of which will be pulled together on Election
"Election Night is our Super Bowl,"Â said NBC's Schiller. "It is when
we pull out all the toys and all the stops to create the best experience