While OZY’s election special fits in with this year’s trend of digital and print publications offering live second screen options alongside the usual broadcasting suspects, OZY’s decision to take on a live show arrived thanks to its fans.
After coming out with a series around election campaigns past and hosting a spate of live events, the publication inadvertently set an expection among its audience. “A lot of our viewers and readers were like, so what are you doing election night?” says OZY co-founder and CEO Carlos Watson. “I would say they convinced us we had to do something really significant. They felt like they needed a different place for election night so they got more than just results.”
And so, Watson and his staff got to work, with planning starting two months ago. “The last several weeks we’ve been kind of sprinting,” he says of the effort which involves almost 50 staff members. “This is a big deal for all of us.”
What they have to show for their efforts is a 6-hour live show that will broadcast tonight, beginning at 6 p.m. ET, from the 5th & K location of Busboys and Poets. It is produced in partnership with Wired, an existing OZY partner chosen for this in part because “their audience is as curious and forward looking as our audience is. And they’re also the kind of people who don’t want the same old, same old, but want something that’s original and distinctive.”
Watson will host the show, which will be a mix of on-site discussion with political and celebrity guests, reports from over a dozen staff members dispersed to swing states, and some audience polling and takes on questions like, “If [audience members] had one big hope for the next president, what would they like him or her to break significant ground on?”
As to be expected, there will also be some parsing of results, but not too much of that.
“Instead of merely giving you the horserace, OZY will be a place where people get some deeper analysis and fresher analysis on a lot of the issues that are relevant,” says Watson. He gives as examples, by way of questions that will be considered on the show, “What’s going to happen to the Supreme Court, no matter who wins? Will it be a complete filibuster for the next four years? Are the Russian hackers done? Who are the stars to watch in the next Congress? Who are the new first-term Senators that we need to keep our eye on as we look out to 2020?”
An equally important way in which Watson says this show will be different from others is in its aesthetic. “Visually and music-wise and graphic-wise, I think it will be a little bit sexier, a little bit more delicious than your classic cable broadcast,” he says.
And the location choice wasn’t a random dot on a map of appealing possibilities. There’s a sentimental connection. “Even before OZY was a real thing, before we had a business plan, we bumped into Busboys and Poets on a visit to see my sister, and my cofounder and I ended up writing a lot of our business plan sitting around drinking coffee at Busboys and Poets. In some ways it really helped nourish and nurture what grew into OZY,” he says.
Tonight it may, in turn, lead OZY toward a new adventure. “Clearly OZY’s been doing a lot with original video, and we recently we took a step through our first primetime television show, but then I think a very cool opportunity would be to have a live, regular program that really sizzles online and uses the digital medium to do things you couldn’t normally do with classic television, and so yes, I think this easily could take us in that direction.”
OZY’s Election Night Live will stream tonight on Ozy.com, Wired.com and Facebook Live.