Democracy Plaza Readies For Its Close-Up

By Alex Weprin Comment

For the third-straight Presidential election, NBC is turning the skating rink and Rockefeller Plaza around it, into its election news hub “Democracy Plaza.” An outline of the United States lies a half inch under the ice, and will be filled in as each state goes red for Romney or blue for Obama. Red and blue curtains will rise up 30 Rock as electoral votes are counted — the 16th floor is the crucial 270 mark. And for the first time, Democracy Plaza will serve as a hub for all the NBC News outlets, with NBC, MSNBC, Telemundo and CNBC all either anchoring or having a presence there tonight.

“We don’t just have the broadcast channel, we have the cable channel, we don’t do two hours of the “Today” show, we do four, and when you come to Democracy Plaza, we are not just doing election coverage, we are doing all of this,” NBC News president Steve Capus told TVNewser last night, as he signaled toward the rink. “I think it is a great focal point for the culmination of two years of politicking that has brought us to this point.”

There are two elevated temporary studios overlooking the ice rink, one of which will be used by NBC News and the other by MSNBC. Just off the rink, next to the statue of Prometheus, is an outdoor studio, where Tamron Hall (warmly dressed, one hopes) will be based. Hall will walk out to the rink throughout the night, presenting storylines based on exit polls using augmented reality, much like the first down lines in televised football games. There is also another smaller studio by the rink for guests, in addition to those on the 3rd floor of 30 Rock, where NBC News programs originate.

While every network has its share of showmanship and gimmickry, it is meaningless without the knowledge to make the right calls.

“None of this matters if the journalism isn’t rock solid,” Capus says, talking up tonight’s anchor team of Brian Williams, David Gregory and Savannah Guthrie. “Last week we had the weather channel and the NBC owned and operated stations and our affiliates up and down the eastern seaboard. That is the difference that an NBC News has going into a big thing like this.

We have the benefit of having the best of the best in every single area that is the collective strength of NBC, and it is something that makes us so much stronger than the other guys,” Capus added.

Of course “Democracy Plaza” is also designed as a consumer event, with lucrative brand integration. Microsoft Windows 8 branding is prominent throughout the plaza, with stands allowing visitors try out the new Surface tablet, or get their caricature drawn on a Windows tablet, or test their own anchor skills in a video produced on a Windows PC. The Metropolitan Museum of Art store in the plaza also has an original copy of the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration did not appear to be sponsored by Microsoft.