NewscastStudio Election Wrapup

This year’s election season was full of many new looks, toys, gizmos and hype-generating devices… but this begs the question, how much was really necessary?

Did CNN need to spend over $300,000 to beam a reporter into their New York Communications Center? Did NBC need to create a scaled down “Democracy Plaza” renamed as “Election Plaza?” Did FOX need a giant touch screen? While some of these tools do help to give results and portray information, there is a reason most of these tools are only used during the elections.

The touch screens are actually useful, as our NewscastStudio poll showed viewers preferred them over the other technology available. While some networks overhyped and overused their touch screens, they actually did provide interesting information with good anchor interaction. Leading up to the election though, many networks just used the touch screens to show off.

While the touch screens helped the presentation, CNN’s “hologram” did not. Why spend $300,000 to virtually project an image on a screen when the real anchor in the studio can’t even see it? To get viewers attention and to have something to talk about. CNN did accomplish this. Their “hologram” gave them talking points for many shows and got CNN a lot of free promotion of people making fun of it. Unfortunately, it did nothing to help their broadcast. While it was a neat trick, the average viewer doesn’t care. The average viewer would have rather seen the cheering Obama fans behind the anchors on location instead of seeing Anderson Cooper stare off into space as he talked to a red dot on the floor.

In the future, these “holograms” may be a great innovation, but in these economic times, CNN could have better spent their money on something else.

In the future I look forward to their use, but now it is unneeded.

Many networks also invested in virtual studios. MSNBC, NBC, FOX, BBC, Sky News and others all had presenters in virtual spaces breaking down numbers, information and graphics that would regularly be just a normal full screen graphic. MSNBC and NBC have been using this technology since last spring, and because of that, they were the best in the United States at using it. MSNBC and NBC used this real time tracking and 3D software to present information that would have been too complex to display with just a normal graphic. They also used it to break down exit polls, while CNN used a touch screen.

Overseas, virtual studios have been used for over a decade to present election night returns. This is nothing new for broadcasters such as the BBC. BBC had an interesting “two-story” virtual world where the presenter could walk between levels and present graphics and information. Sky News also had a virtual studio. Both BBC and Sky News also integrated a touch screen into the virtual studio. This combination allowed them to present numbers, graphics and any other relevant information without needing multiple studios and locations.

On election night, CNN also unveiled its Virtual Capitol. The Virtual Capitol seemed like a good idea at first, but once the cameras began to pan and move, the Capitol came crumbling down. The Virtual Capitol is much like the fake lines on football fields during games. It uses 3D motion tracking and GPS to keep in on the table. When the cameras moved, the Capitol shook as the steadicam moved back and forth, ruining any illusion to viewers.

The Virtual Capitol would have worked better in a virtual studio, much like those used in overseas elections. For example, one overseas broadcaster has a virtual House of Parliament and shows 3D people as the “Balance of Power” shifts from one party to another.

Speaking of “Balance of Power,” FOX’s virtual studio was a major letdown. After seeing all that has been done by MSNBC and NBC, we were expecting more. Instead, it looked like their anchor was on a weather wall. FOX used their virtual studio more like CNN’s Virtual Capitol, as an environment to show the changing power of the Capitol.

For election night, ABC moved into their Times Square studios, normally home of Good Morning America.  The studio gave them lots of room to spread out and to create “pods” for each of their main talent. Each anchor had their own “pod” where they could analyze data and break down the election. ABC also invested in a touch screen, but they used it sparingly compared to other networks.

CBS converted their main newsroom into an election center with a larger desk, more flags, an electoral scoreboard and of course more American flags! CBS also used part of their sports studio to break down the numbers and show poll data.

For this year’s election, FOX and FOX News Channel unveiled 3 new HD studios. Each studio had something different, from a giant weather wall to a rotating RP cube. FOX News Channel’s new HD studio was modeled after their Super Tuesday setup, but with a giant touch screen added. Overall, FOX’s setup worked well. They kept their news channel and over-the-air channel separate and gave each its own setup.

NBC tried to stick to past traditions, but lost some of its luster. “Democracy Plaza” use to be the place to be, with interesting exhibits, broadcast locations and excitement. This election, it was a scaled down event. “Election Plaza” had the traditional ice rink with map, but overall was toned down from past years. NBC also decided to keep its main talent inside on the Football Night in America set. The set was dressed up for the election, and the RP’s were put to good use projecting information and a view of “Election Plaza.” NBC did not do a bad job of presenting the election, but some elements were missing from past years. As mentioned above, we liked their virtual environments and how they interacted. Maybe someday we can see MSNBC use them more, like sister network CNBC.

Graphic wise, all of the networks stuck close to their packages that debuted on Super Tuesday. MSNBC did debut a new graphics package with a unique L-bar layout. CBS keep their “modern look” while NBC made use of their HD wings, as did many broadcasters. Each network had a different look for a different audience. Overseas stations graphics were overly simplified while American graphics had intricate details and movement. No ones graphics were horrible, though we did prefer MSNBC’s the best.

After sitting back and taking some time to analyze this year’s election, one thing is evident. Technology and gizmos were king. This year, more than any other, technology took the forefront and told the story. Some of this technology gave anchors and presenters new means to tell stories, some of it was more of a joke and a punch line.

Time will tell which technology last for the next election, which is now only 1455 days away!

Special thanks to contributors for sending in the HD screencaps.

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