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Ross Video Team Mar 13, 2020 11:35:32 AM

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Living Live Podcast: Leveraging Video to Cover Elections

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On this episode of Living Live with Ross Video, Director of Product Marketing, XPression Patrick Twomey and Director of Product Marketing, Virtual Solutions Gideon Ferber joined host Tyler Kern to discuss the upcoming presidential election and how video producers can best leverage their craft to deliver engaging coverage.

Twomey said that one of the biggest challenges facing election coverage is the uptick in what’s asked of crews that aren’t specifically focusing on that coverage.

“Generally, the resources available at a TV station in North America, or at least in the United States … are compartmentalized,” he said. “So, the same team that’s covering other current events and other stories in the market will be repurposed at the last second to cover elections. The graphics teams don’t have people dedicated to cutting out headshots and candidate information and logos.”

As opposed to pre-planning election coverage, Twomey said, many stations simply focus on regular coverage and programming until it’s time to step it up as the election draws near.

Though election coverage is critically important, this lack of attention beforehand, combined with a feeling that much of it can’t be planned in advance, regardless, holds that coverage back.

Fortunately, Twomey said, there’s a solution in the form of applying resources already available to many stations.

“A lot of broadcasters don’t even realize that some of the data tools are already in the building,” he said. “The same information that they use to drive their tickers, for example, on the bottom of the screen, whether it’s for school closings or headlines for the morning newscast. Usually, those same tools have some type of application for elections.”

Kern, Twomey and Ferber also discussed being flexible and proactive instead of reactionary, crafting storytelling with graphics, and more.

Key Words: election, Election Day 2020, video, live video, broadcast, live TV, templatizing, resources, election coverage, Ross Video, video tools, flexibility

Subtitle: Broadcasters can leverage templatizing, pre-planning and already existing resources to take election coverage to the next level.

AUTHOR: Tyler Kern
CONTRIBUTOR: Patrick Twomey and Gideon Ferber

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Podcast Transcript

Tyler Kern:

Welcome to a brand new episode of Living Live with Ross Video. Well, unless you've been living beneath a rock somewhere, you're probably aware that 2020 is an election year in the United States. You've probably seen the commercials, the tweets, all of that good stuff.

Tyler Kern:

But, election coverage means something much different for television producers, and for those in the television industry. Joining me to talk about that today is Patrick Twomey, he's the Director of Product Marketing for Ross Video Expression. Patrick, thank you so much for joining me.

Patrick Twomey:

Thanks for having us.

Tyler Kern:

Absolutely. Gideon Ferber is here as well, he's the Director of Product Marketing for Ross Video Virtual Solutions. Gideon, thank you for being here.

Gideon Ferber:

Thank you for inviting me.

Tyler Kern:

Absolutely, absolutely.

Tyler Kern:

Patrick, let's start off here. When we look at television station coverage for election coverage, how much attention are TV stations paying to Election Day, in the buildup to it? Are there plans that people are talking about now, as we sit here in February, with Election Day in November? Or, are plans put into place much later?

Patrick Twomey:

I think that we're in a unique set of election cycles, but in the US, everybody pretty much knows that the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, there's an election in the US. There's others that spread apart, but generally the resources available in a TV station in North America ... I should say, at least the United States, aren't really dedicated to air compartmentalized.

Patrick Twomey:

So, the same team that's covering other current events, and other stories in the market, will be repurposed at the last second to cover elections. The graphics teams don't have people dedicated towards cutting out head shots, and candidate information, and logos. There may be people that are doing political reporting in every station, but they're generally a small, isolated group, and the resources get moved over at the last minute a lot of times.

Patrick Twomey:

The concept of election coverage is something that usually waits until the last week or two before elections, whether it's building the graphic templates, or whether it's aligning candidate information. If the station's not politically oriented already, it's generally one of the last things that they think about, unfortunately, because they're trying to get their regular, daily news coverage taken care of.

Tyler Kern:

That's really interesting. Gideon, you've focused a lot on overseas markets. Is that the case overseas, as well?

Gideon Ferber:

Well, unlike the US, I think other countries have less stable schedules for elections. If you look at Europe, if you look at the Middle East, you get cases where you have three campaigns, in one year. That obviously dictates a completely different thought process for broadcasters. Reusing the same graphic assets, reusing the same teams, not paying as much attention to the look and feel, mainly just focus on the actual numbers.

Gideon Ferber:

Again, it's a little bit different approach, many times.

Tyler Kern:

Patrick, what particular challenges do TV stations face, then, as they are preparing for this type of coverage? Is it simply just that what they do on a day in, day out basis requires their attention to the extent that they can't devote attention to future projects, like Election Day coverage?

Patrick Twomey:

Right. Election coverage is something very important to every station, and it definitely has influence on their newsroom perception in the market. But, having the ability to, for example, design graphic templates, to focus campaigns, to work how the studio looks, it's not something that a lot of resources can get devoted to ahead of time.

Patrick Twomey:

Trying to get something like election results, sometimes, a lot of broadcasters don't even realize some of the data tools are already in the building. The same information that they use to drive their tickers, for example, on the bottom of the screen, whether it's school closings, or headlines for the morning new cast, usually those same tools have some type of application for elections that they, often times, either aren't aware of, or don't even think about.

Patrick Twomey:

As a vendor, sometimes it's one of those things you try to put in front of them, that the resource for doing general day-to-day work, is also capable of handling some of these special events and news coverage pieces, that they generally don't think about. Or, they will look at as a way for a vendor to try to upsell. It's not like we're trying to upsell, but we've seen this as vendors, we see how stations are reacting to this kind of thing. We're trying to put tools in their hands, so they can plan a little more appropriately, and spread it out a little bit, and know the resources are there, whether they know about them and plan for them, or whether they're going after them for the last second grasp, to try and get something done.

Tyler Kern:

Yeah. Gideon, I suppose the challenge here is that everybody is working off of the same numbers and data, when it comes to Election Day, right? But, the difference comes in how you can, I suppose, differentiate yourself with how you tell the story. How can graphics, and how can tools be leveraged and used, to help stations really tell better stories on Election Day, basically?

Gideon Ferber:

That's really, really good question. I like the fact that you used the word story, here. It's all about storytelling. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how many broadcasters will cover the same election, they will all be fed the same official data feed.

Gideon Ferber:

Yes, it's all about how you design your experience for the viewers. Whether it's the traditional CG graphics on screen, or today you see more and more groundbreaking technologies being used, from projections on buildings, to augmented reality in the studio, to complete virtual sets. In some cases, even going back to physical props.

Gideon Ferber:

If you take a look, for example, in the last elections in the UK, they actually had the map with hexagons, showing the different counties. They had that in the square, outside of the BBC headquarters. The entire production was an outdoor production, covering this map. As the results came in, they added more and more tiles, to cover the map. Now, when you combine something like that, with augmented reality, with projections on the buildings around them, and you create a completely different experience than what you've traditionally used to see an election coverage.

Gideon Ferber:

Another thing to keep in mind here, as you said, it's all about differentiation. Whether you're the local producer, or the local station, that needs to differentiate regionally, of if you're the top-tier broadcaster that everyone is looking up to, to see what the trend that you're leading, or the technology that you're adopting, on each and every level, the competition is there. They are all trying to make the next jump, to the next possible level for them.

Gideon Ferber:

Just to tie it a little bit with what Patrick said, at the end of the day, these are all the same tools. It's just a creative process, and the thought behind the production that can really make the difference. Because again, you can use the same graphic tool that I'm using today for my lower thirds, but if I'm using it in the right way, with the right combination of technologies, I can now use the same engine and do augmented reality, or use it for projection, or use it for a video wall. There needs to be a lot of thinking, before you just jump into the production. But, the tools are there.

Patrick Twomey:

Gideon, you bring up a good point because numbers are every place. We've changed our culture and work, where it used to be a certain group of people would be looking at numbers, and now everybody's got it on their desktop. From the person who's counting change at a cash register, to the person who's making financial decisions for a cooperation, people will start looking at common tools, on a regular desktop computer. Now, it's very difficult to find somebody who doesn't have an efficiency suite, a productivity suite, with something like Microsoft Excel, or a Google Sheets.

Patrick Twomey:

The data is just so readily in front of everybody. They're bombarded with it, the Internet has helped put all these data sources in front of all of us. Finding ways to visualize the data differently is what makes a better viewer, and they're more informed, and they're more interested in participating in what's going on.

Patrick Twomey:

The current political culture, worldwide, has really engaged voters. And, in certain places around the world, voting is considered not only a right, but a privilege, and people will exercise it freely. Here, in the United States for example, it's a small percentage of people that actually go to the polls, and actually take effort to vote. But, everybody sits down and watches the news coverage, to figure out what they're candidate has done. They're trying to endorse their candidate, they're trying to rally behind them, and they want to see what the voting process has done.

Patrick Twomey:

I have a funny feeling this next set of elections is probably going to be one of the more participatory events, in American history, when it comes to the election cycles. I really feel that there's such a split, that people are going to participate in it. What we're talking about here, is making sure that people see this information. A lot of newsrooms are trying to find that. And on Election Night, having them sit down, and really see how that process is played out, is going to be pretty critical.

Tyler Kern:

One of the things that comes to mind as you're saying that, Patrick, is I think we saw a little bit of this online, in the last election, in 2016, when it was the New York Times needle. You know what I'm talking about? Referencing that needle that was wavering, and pointing back and forth, and that sort of thing.

Tyler Kern:

I think that there might be something ... I'm curious about your thoughts on this. Can TV stations learn from what websites like the New York Times did, with that election needle, and create graphics, and utilize tools like that, that they're using online? Can ideas like that be co-opted, or take and transferred over into television? Can television take some pointers from what they're doing in the online world?

Patrick Twomey:

There's no question. There's a change in the technology, and it used to be certain things that you could do on a computer, you'd need processing, and you couldn't do things in real time. The ability to do real time rendering has changed, so you can after more visual things, you can work with thought leaders to find ways to tell the stories differently. The sources of data are just amazing, where they're at, and how you put those together to tell the story, and what story you want to create.

Patrick Twomey:

The dangerous part of data is you can make data tell you anything you want. But, as Gideon pointed out, literally all of us are playing with the same information. If we're taking exit polls, that's unique. But, if we're looking at what the final results and tallies are throughout the evening, if it's done responsibly, ... Again, in a national election, you tend to wait until polls close before you announce results, so that you don't lead public voting. But, to be able to take something visually, and show where trend is going, is actually very easy to do.

Patrick Twomey:

You'll see this, similarly, played out now in sporting events, where they now are, in certain markets in the US and around the world now, they're actually predicting the results of the game, and saying that so-and-so has a certain percentage opportunity to win the game. That's really no different, here. That's literally just putting the data that you can harvest from some place, and making a graphic representation, whether it's a needle, ...

Patrick Twomey:

For example, we've done this for auto racing processes, for years, where you can take the tachometer conversation, and you're basically making that dial, the needle, and you're watching it move based on what the data source is putting to it.

Tyler Kern:

Yeah, that's really interesting. I kind of want to go back to something we talked about a little bit earlier, and that was just having almost that templatized idea of graphics, that you can use flexibility in different ways.

Tyler Kern:

I think one of the things that we've come to learn about elections in recent years, is to always expect the unexpected, right? Be ready for any particular event. So, how can TV stations ... Gideon, I'll direct this to you, first. How can stations be prepared, with maybe a templatized version of graphics, for whatever outcomes comes around? Expect the unexpected, so to speak?

Gideon Ferber:

Well, to a degree, you can't 100% prepare, right? I can't create a full package ahead of time. However, if I know which data sources I'm going to use, I can prepare for that. I know how they're going to link into my graphics. Broadcasters can have a general concept of, what is it that they want to do, and then start preparing ahead of time with the right assets, whether it's 2D, 3D, augmented, virtual, it doesn't really matter. They can build stuff ahead of time, and just keep it as a repository for whenever needed.

Gideon Ferber:

I think that's pretty much it. Obviously, you can't predict everything, unless ... Well, from a past life, different company, different election, in a country that I won't name, but we received the Excel with the results the night before. We thought that it's supposed to be test numbers, to check that everything's working. Then they said, "No, no, no, use it tomorrow."

Tyler Kern:

Oh.

Gideon Ferber:

It was, "Okay. Let's grab our passports, and fly out of here."

Tyler Kern:

Wow.

Gideon Ferber:

In some cases, you can prepare, but obviously, hopefully not too many cases.

Gideon Ferber:

Yeah, if you build a repository of the assets that might be useful, so I know for a fact that I'm going to use, let's say, land graphs, I can build them ahead of time. I can make sure that they are linked to the right data sources, in the right time. Then, if I need to tweak the graphics closer to the election, because now I want to present it in a different way, I can of course do that. But, it's not starting from scratch, as Patrick said, a week before, "Oh my God, we need to be on air."

Gideon Ferber:

Same goes with maps, same goes with bar charts, same goes with pretty much everything. If you prepare in advance, you know the data, you make the connections, the actual tweaks of the design can take place up until the very last second, but at least you know your structure is there.

Tyler Kern:

Is it important for stations to be prepared in such a way that they have flexibility within their systems, to be able to flex and move as they receive new and different information?

Patrick Twomey:

I think news is always about different information. I think if you look, for example, we talk about templates, and Gideon's hinted at that a little bit, how you can build and prep, I'm going to take this a step backwards.

Patrick Twomey:

If I'm going to prepare graphics for a football game, I have a base template that holds a certain class of stats, or certain number of stat data points. I might have a headshot, a jersey number, and player's name, and I'll repurpose that 100 times for the game. The same thing happens for election coverage, where I build a template that might have two candidates, head to head, or three candidates, head to head, or four candidates, head to head. I have to know which one I'm going to use. It's possible to build the logic to say that template with all the head to head can be one, two, three or four. You build them to say that I've got an incumbent candidate, I've got one that's a projected winner, one that's a verified winner.

Patrick Twomey:

I think, for example, going back to the elections where we were deciding in Florida what was happening, and it was weeks before we had a vote. Nobody could get an actual predictive title, and that literally held the United States hostage for a couple of weeks, so to speak. That's one of the most unpredictable things, because we're looking and counting. We saw this happen in Iowa, a week ago, where it should be pretty simply the count 200,000 votes, and it wound up taking them a day and a half. You look at the stock market, counts several million votes in an hour. Not votes, but data points, in an hour, in the stock market.

Patrick Twomey:

It's difficult to assume that everything's predictable, because it's not. There are so many tangibles that happen, here. I'd be curious to see, for example, how many people realize how many votes Mickey Mouse gets every election, as a write-in candidate. At some point in time, he's going to qualify.

Tyler Kern:

Yeah, that doesn't seem terribly unlikely, I suppose. I think the three of us could divide and conquer, and count 200,000 votes quicker than what took place recently, but I don't know, maybe I'm over-estimating us. But, I think the three of us could do a pretty good job.

Tyler Kern:

One of the things that I'm getting, and I'm hearing from you guys, as we have this conversation is that there's an education of the tools available to television stations that can happen, that will allow them to work three or four steps head of the process, rather than being reactionary. How can that education take place, to help TV stations work ahead a little bit more, rather than being so reactionary?

Gideon Ferber:

That's a very good question. With all fairness, I'm not sure. This is something that we're working on, obviously, for quite some time.

Gideon Ferber:

I guess, from our perspective as a vendor, I know that we're doing the best we can with, whether it's webinars, or training sessions, or pre-sale work, so to speak, or development work with the customers, and trying to offer solutions to problems that they haven't thought about yet. Does it work? To some degree, some cases. Does it work, every single time? Absolutely not, unfortunately. I would love if it would be more consistent.

Gideon Ferber:

Again, I think that's almost the best we can do. You need to get in touch with the broadcaster, and try to deliver the message of, "There are ways to reduce the stress level, there are ways to be better prepared." However, again, many times it's completely out of our hands.

Patrick Twomey:

I think it's one of those things too, you look to a broadcaster, and you hope that they're doing a good retrospect. When they finish an election, or when they finish any project, you'd like to go back and look at it, and review, and see what you did well, and what you did poorly.

Patrick Twomey:

If there's things that you want to improve on, if you're not sure you have the right resources internally, ironically, I think all of us as vendors in this space, are eager to work with customers, to try and solve problems. That's literally what we're in the business of, is solutions. We often times look like we're out for ourselves, and yes, we're in business, there's no question, but we're trying to offer the best products to solve a problem. That's really what we're doing. If we're making something that doesn't solve a problem, we're not going to sell a lot of them.

Patrick Twomey:

To partner with a vendor, and try to understand what it is ... And sometimes you'll review several vendors, this is no different than somebody going and buying a car. "Hey, the last car I bought didn't have heated seats, I really want that in the next car." That's a conversation, you find a similar thing, "Hey, I really wanted something that handles real time data changes. How do I do that? I really would like to have the ability to do a transition from a lower third statistical panel of the vote totals, to have that suddenly turn into a full screen graphic." Or, "I want to see these vote totals animate as bar graphs out of the floor, how do I do that? How can you help me do that?"

Patrick Twomey:

As a newsroom, if you can ask that question to your own team, and your engineering staff, and your technical staff, and your production people, and they can answer that question, great. If they're not capable of giving you the answer, or saying, "Hey, it can't be done ..." I learned a long time ago, in post-production, there isn't anything that can't be done, it's a matter of how much time, and how much money are you willing to put to the problem, before you say, "I can only go so far?"

Patrick Twomey:

To address that, for example, as Gideon's saying, "Hey, I'd like to visualize the data better. I would like to have bar graphs, I would like to have pie charts to show where the votes are going, I would like to have a map to show me how the trend is happening, in the voting geographic region." Those are all things that are possible, it's a matter of where you finally have to say, "Hey, that's outside my budget, at this point." Or, "Hey, I'd like to do this next time. Can you find a way to help me do this cheaper?"

Patrick Twomey:

We're problem solvers. Working with a vendor in the region, in the space of what you're trying to accomplish is probably a great way to get started. We're always willing to help out, and we're always looking to find new ways to get a crazy idea that we have out in front of people, to make it more acceptable. Sometimes what we think is crazy is what you've already been looking for, and we've just never had the conversation about it.

Tyler Kern:

Yeah, absolutely. Well, it really comes across as a total team effort, from vendor, to station, to everybody there at the station, coming together to tell those stories. To take that data, take those numbers, take that information, tell good stories, and create compelling television that way, which is what everybody in the business is trying to do, in the long run.

Tyler Kern:

When it comes to this election coverage, and these election days, and that sort of thing, it's telling those stories, and it's finding new and fun ways to do it. You guys are enabling that, as vendors there with Ross Video.

Tyler Kern:

Patrick and Gideon, thank you guys so much for joining me today, and talking a little bit more about Election Day coverage.

Patrick Twomey:

Thanks for having us.

Gideon Ferber:

Thank you so much.

Tyler Kern:

Everybody else, thank you so much for listening to this episode of Living Live with Ross Video. If you haven't already, please go subscribe on either Spotify, or iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts these days. You can listen to previous episodes of the show, as well as future episodes, they will be downloaded directly there, on that platform.

Tyler Kern:

So, thank you again, so much, for listening to this episode. We'll be back soon, with more episodes. Until then, I've been your host today, Tyler Kern. Thanks for listening.

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