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CNN, NBC and PBS Have Big Online Plans for Party Conventions

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Just as the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade heralds the start of the holiday shopping season, the upcoming Republican National Convention (in Tampa, Florida, August 27 to 30) and the Democratic National Convention (in Charlotte, North Carolina, September 4 to 6) will signify the kickoff of the final leg of the 2012 U.S. presidential race. That's why the major networks will be out in force, covering both conventions from every conceivable angle.

Although television remains the king of convention coverage, players such as CNN, NBC, and PBS will be delivering a substantial amount of online coverage. In fact, all three are devoting substantial resources to telling both conventions' kingmaker stories through streaming media, social media, and mobile apps.

CNN: Not Your Father's Convention Coverage

Staring with the 2012 national conventions, CNN Digital has decided to broaden its approach to political news coverage.

"No longer will we just be big red CNN pushing out content to the faceless masses," says Meredith Artley, vice president and managing director of CNN Digital. "Instead, we will be interacting with our audience on a personal basis. In fact, the Republican and Democratic Conventions will launch the most socially interactive coverage we've ever done."          

CNN Digital's approach is based on the network's eight-month-old "Up Strategy." Artley describes it as being "an internal manifesto that positions us neither to the left or right, or lying limply in the middle. Instead, we are going to use this election as an opportunity to do really smart and engaging coverage."

To this end, CNN will supplement its main broadcast coverage with topical blogs, including one on religion and politics that is branded as its Belief Blog. It will open CNN Grills -- combined restaurants and live TV studios -- for delegates to flock to in Tampa and Charlotte. The network is also sending six of its civilian iReporters to the conventions to give their views of what's happening, with their content added to CNN's overall coverage. CNN Digital has even commissioned artists from around the world to create works based on the theme of power, which it will put on display at CNN.com.

As for streaming media: Starting with the conventions, CNN will provide subscriber-based TV everywhere video and a range of free live raw streams at www.cnn.com/live.

"We've got our live CNN and HLN feeds behind the TV everywhere firewall, which requires you to sign in with your cable/satellite TV subscriber data," says Alex Wellen, CNN's vice president of video products and business. "Our plan is bring everything together is to provide a single destination for viewers. My goal is to deliver live signals that are easy to get to, and that look pristine."

CNN has also partnered with Facebook in a bid to dominate the second screen. Under the deal, Facebook will host an I'm Voting app to let Facebook users publicly state their votes and preferred candidates and issues -- with the data to be displayed online in real-time. Facebook will also track and report the amount of subscriber buzz about the major presidential and vice presidential candidates, and will survey voters in concert with CNN on various issues.

"We are also going to be releasing upgraded and expanded versions of our iPhone/iPad apps to coincide with the conventions," Artley says. "We redesigned them to improve navigation and usability, and added new features like an Electoral Map Calculator to let you track who stands where in the presidential race."

Collectively, these online and mobile efforts signify CNN's move away from being a traditional news reporting network.

"Today, we're much more than that," says Meredith Artley. "As viewers will see for the Republican and Democratic conventions, we are now a multimedia, interactive, and social news source that can reach you on whatever platform you prefer."

NBC News: Harnessing the Power of Online

"It's clear how much of a role social media is now playing in the U.S. political process," declares Ryan Osborn, NBC News' senior director of social media. "This is a truth that we, as a news organization, are now embracing through our site NBCPolitics.com. This is our new brand that will serve as a hub for all of our broadcast, online streaming, and social media content."

The Republican and Democratic conventions will give NBCPolitics.com a chance to show off its stuff -- including a new NBC Politics app for iPhone and iPad.

"Through our site, we will be posting live streaming video links and Twitter accounts for all of our major reporters, anchors, and contributors," says Osborn. "And we will be extending content through every major form of social media that's out there; including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Google Plus."

In its convention coverage, NBC News will be putting political content first. This means that the story will be the thing, and the way it is crafted and delivered -- although tempered by the platform used -- will be focused on what best serves the viewer. In some cases, this will be by posting live streaming video of unexpected or extraordinary events, as well as major speeches and rallies. In others, it may mean breaking news on Twitter, posting polls on Facebook, or sharing photos from the convention floor on Instagram.

The network's First Read blog will be pivotal to the network's convention coverage. This is the place where NBC News reporters and pundits post their first impressions of events as soon as they occur. In the internet age, First Read is a timely tool.

"Our goal is to turn NBC News into an immersive, multimedia destination for political news during the conventions, and on into the election," says Osborn. "This means that our unified brand must be available across all of our platforms, and be designed to encourage our viewers to move from one to another while staying with us."

It's worth noting that NBC News will employ Mass Relevance's social media analysis software to filter viewer emails and social media postings, so that the best and most appropriate of them can be responded to online and/or on air.

"Mass Relevance screens out messages with swear words and threats, and pushes the best messages to our people quickly," says Osborn. "This allows us to respond to them without getting drowned in messages. That's important to our positioning as an interactive, social media-oriented broadcaster."

PBS: Dedicated to Online Streaming

PBS's flagship NewsHour has used streaming media since 2010.

"We were kind of thrown into it with a bang during the BP oil spill," says Travis Daub, PBS NewsHour's creative director. "We were taking BP's live video stream, which was in Windows Media, and converting it to Flash and posting it on our website. The traffic was unbelievable: We got two million unique views on one day alone."

Today, PBS NewsHour regularly provides a range of on-demand video and audio streams (via its partner UStream) on www.pbs.org/newshour. Those videos are bolstered by the show's Facebook page and Twitter account (@NewsHour). This is line with PBS's history of being an early adopter of  online media, and a pioneer in adding it to TV broadcasting.

With respect to the upcoming Republican and Democratic national conventions, PBS NewsHour has big streaming media plans: "We are going to be offering six different video streams," says Daub. "Two will offer programmed content, while the other four will be used for live video feeds, views of the floor, or perhaps an inside look at our news operation. We may even offer feeds from reporters wearing GoPro HD wireless cameras on their heads, and wandering around the convention seeing what they can see."

That's not all: PBS NewsHour's live streams will also feature regular people stepping in front of the camera to give their views, exclusive recorded packages prepared by onsite journalists at the conventions, and unexpected newsworthy events as they occur.

"A number of our video journalists will be shooting behind-the-scenes video, to give our viewers an ‘all access pass' to the convention floor," says Christina Bellantoni, PBS NewsHour's Political Editor.

During the hours when the Republican and Democratic conventions are shut down, at least one of the streams will carry a series of previously aired pieces on the current political campaign. They will air in chronological order, with prerecorded bumpers by PBS NewsHour's Bellatoni and digital correspondent Hari Sreenivasan.

"We are also recording segments with our political analysts David Brooks and Mark Shields, answering questions such as ‘what were your favorite convention moments and why,'" Bellantoni tells Streaming Media.                                                  

All told, PBS NewsHour's online presence will be massive during the Republican and Democratic conventions. Small wonder: "Political conventions are really big for us, with 20 million tuning to our coverage during the last conventions in 2008," says Bellantoni. "2012 could be even bigger for us, especially with our diverse streaming video feeds."

Election graphic via Shutterstock.

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