News outlets gear up for election night viewership surge

Television news outlets are using PR and print media outreach to vie for election night viewers next Tuesday.

Television news outlets are using PR and print media outreach to vie for election night viewers next Tuesday.

In 2000, the presidential contest was expected to be close, but was not consumed by the bitter rhetoric of this year's campaign. Many viewers most likely took for granted the results would be known the morning after the vote. While many viewers tuned and stayed late, the highest-ranked network broadcast, NBC's coverage, only attracted enough viewers to place it twelfth in the Nielsen ratings for that week, behind Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Monday Night Football, and The Practice.

However, this time around the networks and cable stations are pulling out the big guns to make sure that viewers that eschewed politics for entertainment last year chose their station to watch the proceedings.

CNN is using its experience from this year's Republican National Convention to help increase viewership. The news network took over the renowned Tic Toc diner a few blocks from the convention site, Madison Square Garden, to use as its studio.

CNN has employed the different studio technique several times to success this campaign season.

"We've put many of our shows on the road for several weeks from American Morning, Anderson Cooper 360, and Lou Dobbs," said Matthew Furman, SVP of PR for CNN. "Our ratings have improved significantly; it resonates with the viewer."

For the election night coverage, which CNN is calling America Votes 2004, the channel will broadcast from NASDAQ's Manhattan facilities, using its 96-screen video wall to bombard viewers with stats, stats, and more stats, while scoring a coup in the media-rich NYC marketplace by projecting its broadcast on the seven-story NASDAQ tower in Times Square.

CNN put out a news release on this development on October 12 and has entertained media writers. "We do a great deal of radio," Furman said. "Our anchors are booked on radio shows throughout the country throughout the day and are reaching people all the time."

The channel will also have a live audience at AOL Time Warner Center for a town hall meeting, hosted by anchor Paula Zahn, featuring the four regular Crossfire co-hosts, James Carville, Robert Novak, Paul Begala, and Tucker Carlson.

Like CNN, CBS has courted media writers, making its making some of the executives available.

"We're put out press releases and held more than a dozen interviews with television writers," said Sandy Genelius, VP of CBS news communications.

The fact that is an extremely important and close election, according to polls, makes it a must-see event, Genelius said.

CBS' goal, she added, was to "go back to the basic tenet of telling the story and trying to explain to [viewers] the 'why'" during the proceedings.

CBS' coverage will go on until 2am, which contingencies if the election had not been called by then. Genelius said that the network has not seen its ratings drop in the wake of the 60 Minutes II flap about the disputed memos.

Comedy Central's The Daily Show will have the culmination of its Indecision 2004 coverage with an hour program from 10pm - 11pm on election night and an Indecision 2004 party.

The party is expected to draw 500-600 people, including advertisers, clients, press people, VIPs, and politicians and pundits.

"PR has played a big role in our [election] campaign [coverage]," said Tony Fox, VP of corporate communications at Comedy Central.

The show broadcasted live from New Hampshire weeks before the 2004 Democratic primaries and made Stewart available for interviews.

"Back in 2000, not too many people knew Jon," Fox said. "We were sticking our stake in the ground [in NH]."

Comedy Central has done a lot of on-air promotions and marketing, but its biggest election night coverage may have come from the serendipitous release of The Daily Show's book, America: The Book.

"We'll be publicizing the election soon with on-air promotion and a [marketing] burst pointing people to election night," Fox said.

Fox said the network has high expectations for ratings, considering its record Daily Show audience came during the first debate. As for the night, Comedy Central is still mulling its options.

"Back in 2000 we talked about a contingency plan, but, for now, we'll be on from 10 to 11," Fox said, before saying that the programming department is exploring a number of contingency programs in the likely event the election is not called early. "It may be a call we literally make from the control room that night."

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