Change Comes to Election Coverage

The political landscape wasn't all that changed Nov. 4. The major news outlets unleashed their own initiatives, ranging from holographic spokesmen on CNN to an explosion of giant touchscreens.

Fox News Channel celebrated its two new HD studios and new virtual reality studio. It plans to use those tools soon to expand HD production across FNC's primetime lineup, up from just a few shows before the election.

The Fox effort fed five program channels: FNC, Fox broadcast outlets, Fox Business Channel (which was born in the HD format), Fox Radio and the (mostly) online "Strategy Room."

The smaller, virtual reality studio has greenscreen for chroma-keying and two cameras to help make it look like a 6,000-square-foot space. It hosted the "Balance of Power" segments that looked at results, especially the House and Senate races and the new composition of Congress.

After the election, that studio is being used for weather reporting and other graphics-intensive programming.

Viewers were also treated to a giant-screen "Launch Pad," powered by a 42-inch plasma touchscreen.

Over at CNN, the future came in the form of holographic spokesmen. At the Phoenix and Chicago campaign headquarters, 43-camera arrays caught head-to-toe images of the talkers as 20 computers at each spot morphed the images together to create the illusion of a spokesman in a futuristic teleporter. CNN had to degrade the image somewhat to avoid confusing viewers about the actual location of the spokesmen.

CNN added to its graphics-intensive "Magic Wall" with a separate virtual Capitol Building to graphically display the results of House and Senate elections.

CBS, fresh into its MPEG-4 upgrade, used 13 HD cameras in Control Room 47, launched in July as its main news studio.

The station relied on 15-plus Vizrt graphics engines, up from four or five in previous elections, according to Frank Governale, CBS vice president for operations.

Last February, during Super Tuesday coverage, CBS got the idea to create a four-sided scoreboard-type structure in the studio. Producers can fill it with graphics or video feeds, and it will be seen in the background of some studio wide shots and two-person shots.

CBS News borrowed an HD control room from CBS Sports for its storyline about exit polling. That facility included its usual LED wall plus a 65-inch Panasonic touchscreen with a custom overlay to explain the exit polling results.

A third control room handled coordination of remote feeds from the campaign headquarters and Washington. All that HD would not be possible without the network's recent move to MPEG-4 encoding, using Fujitsu encoders that enable HD transmission at low bit-rates—especially important on a night like Election Night when satellite transponder space is at a premium.

The NBC empire—including MSNBC, CNBC, Telemundo, and NBC Mobile—lit up the skating rink at Rockefeller Plaza (dubbed "Election Plaza") with its electoral map, projected its news feed on large outdoor screens at the plaza and raised McCain and Obama banners up as their electoral vote totals grew.

Reaching the voters in ever new ways, MSNBC and posted real-time results on many of Clear Channel Outdoor's 265 displays nationwide, and on Clear Channel Taxi Media's 300 "digital smart top units" atop taxis in New York and Boston.

Despite the flashy competition, ABC topped all channels Election Night with more than 13.1 million primetime viewers. CNN topped all cable outlets and all the other broadcast outlets with more than 12.3 million viewers. In all, 78.6 million people in 47.5 million households watch the primetime programming, according to Nielsen.