NBC News Redefines Viewer Engagement With Virtual Democracy Plaza

By A.J. Katz 

NBC News will once again turn Rockefeller Center into the election news hub called Democracy Plaza. But this year, you can take part, even if you’re nowhere near New York City.

In partnership with AltspaceVR, NBC News rolled out a brand new social virtual reality platform this morning called Virtual Democracy Plaza.

Users can “visit” the plaza this election season from their home and come face-to-face with others who are using the platform around the globe. Programming has been created specifically for the Virtual Democracy Plaza, including debate watch parties, and live expert Q&As hosted by on-air talent, including MSNBC political correspondent Steve Kornacki, and CNBC senior personal finance correspondent Sharon Epperson.

NBC News is the first broadcast network to invest in creating a series of live events to cover the election for an audience inside of virtual reality, and it’s a platform that allows users to engage directly with talent. Every attendee will feel as though they’re steps away from the presenter in VR.

“We’re committed to experimentation, and virtual reality is going to be an increasingly interesting way for us to think about creating new content, new forms of storytelling and new ways of distributing it,” NBC News digital chief Nick Ascheim tells TVNewser. “The presidential election represents a perfect launching point for virtual reality interaction because everyone is curious about what’s going on right now, and it gives participants the opportunity to really interact with our talent in a space we are familiar with. We truly believe there will be a lot of interest in the Virtual Democracy Plaza.”

TVNewser received a Virtual Democracy Plaza demo earlier this week, and we found the experience to be pretty extraordinary. Though it was a bit disorienting at first, we were able to move around the plaza and on the skating rink, which like the physical Democracy Plaza features the outline of the United States, which will fill in when a state goes red for Donald Trump or blue for Hillary Clinton.


Participants can join the Virtual Democracy Plaza experience by using Oculus Rift CV1, HTC Vive or Samsung Gear VR products. For those who want to participate in the experience but don’t have access to one of the aforementioned VR products, a PC or Mac can be used for a 2D Virtual Democracy Plaza experience.

Al Roker will host the program’s ribbon cutting ceremony later today. Kornacki will hold an “Ask an Expert” event next Thursday. Here’s a list of other Virtual Democracy Plaza events:

  • September 21, 6:00 p.m. ET: Opening Event – ribbon cutting ceremony with Al Roker
  • September 26, 8:30 p.m. ET: Debate Watch Party and audience vote/after party
  • September 29, 12:30 p.m. ET: Ask the political expert – Q&A with Steve Kornacki
  • October 4, 8:30 p.m. ET: VP Debate Watch Party
  • October 9, 8:30 p.m. ET: Debate Watch Party
  • October 11, 7:00 p.m. ET: Conversation with CNBC’s Sharon Epperson
  • October 19, 8:30 p.m. ET: Debate Watch Party
  • November 8, 6:00 p.m. ET: Live Election Night coverage