wTVision’s Alex Fraser Addresses Elections and Interactivity

The merging between interactive technologies and television is one of the most interesting trends the broadcast industry is facing, according to wTVision CTO Alex Fraser. While this isn’t something entirely new, if you count those TV shows where the viewers interacted through phone calls, the public’s interest and the opportunities to experiment with these kinds of features are on the rise like never before.

The new formats of Entertainment programs, such as contests with voting systems, ask their public to interact with the content with one or several technologies, which helps broadcasters to better assess and engage their target audiences.

Journalists use all sorts of social networks to acknowledge and report the public’s interests, so interactivity in news programs was never out of the question.

But how does this fare in political events such as election coverages? Could it be risky to throw interactivity into the mix? Mixing formal (statistically relevant) and informal (SMS, website) polls would confuse the audience?

Election nights, by default, give enormous amounts of data to compile and present to the public, fostering more informed political interpretations by opinion makers, especially guest commentators. However, broadcasters will face two election nights, later this year, that don’t belong to this category: Scotland and Catalonia’s independence referendums.

Despite having a regional scope, the referendum results will impact far beyond European borders. While independence referendums aren’t entirely new, the scissions in both the United Kingdom and Spain would be top stories worldwide, so we can count with people following the elections in an international level.

Broadcast-wise, referendums are often seen as a lesser form of electoral night, even if they spark public debate and interest by discussing controversial themes, and the lack of statistical data doesn’t exactly add up to the excitement. Can interactivity revolutionize the coverage of referendums?

Fraser thinks there are a few issues that need to be addressed before choosing a solution completely out-of-the-box: “The public might mistake informal data with legitimate polls. There’s also the problem with making the electoral night look too much like «Infotainment», something that can alienate many viewers, precisely the thing broadcasters work so hard to avoid.”

In order to prevent confusion, there are indirect ways to interact with the public, namely social networks. Facebook and Twitter integration is now a common practice in live programs, but what else can be mustered?

Hugo Monteiro, Communications Specialist from wTVision, says there are going to be a number of questions that can arise should the “Yes” wins: “We’re talking about two of the most important monarchies in the world. What will happen if the separatists succeed? For example, Catalonia is traditionally more favorable to republicanism than monarchy. Would that change too? Scotland will maintain Queen Elizabeth II as its monarch in the same way Australia does? The broadcaster that clarifies the public’s doubts will have an edge with the audiences”.

The means to obtain this information might be the key to change the status quo without sacrificing seriousness: “A software that is able to automatically recognize political trends, in social networks, and the user’s position towards them, can be an incredible way to collect massive amounts of data and compile it in meaningful polls for that specific social network. This goes far beyond hashtag recognition, of course, and will demand a sophisticated artificial intelligence”, states Alex Fraser.

Mixing official and unofficial sources pose both a risk and an opportunity for electoral coverages. Paulo Ferreira, wTVision’s Global Sales Director, defends that probing social media is the correct way to assess the voter’s reasons to vote: “Most of the time, broadcasters center their attention in interviewing politicians and opinion makers. Referendums can be good occasions to foster the debate before and after the election, highlighting the pros and cons of both sides and show it in an interactive and innovative way.”

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