For television news organizations, Election Night is like the Super Bowl – the year's best chance to show off talent and technology.
A couple of folks sitting behind a desk reading numbers? How 1950s.
Tuesday will see holograms and virtual reality, a “magic wall” and a “launchpad,” and two New York landmarks – Rockefeller Center and Times Square – turned into TV studios.
NBC will imprint a U.S. map on the Rockefeller Center skating rink, turning states blue or red as they are called for Barack Obama or John McCain. Giant banners will climb 16 stories up 30 Rockefeller Plaza, marking the progress to 270 electoral votes.
Three giant video screens put in place by ABC News will loom over Times Square.The competition among ABC, CBS and NBC is intense. The cable networks CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC approach equal footing now. And they're not the only choices.
Besides providing up-to-date information, networks feel pressure just to catch someone's eye.
One important lesson came in 1976, when NBC built a giant map of the country as a backdrop. The states were lit in white, and were turned red if Jimmy Carter won, blue if they backed Gerald Ford. After some early glitches the map became an instant hit.
Four years later, all three broadcasters had big maps and the colors became uniform: blue for Democrats, red for Republicans. The stakes are high.
“People are becoming more sophisticated,” said Phil Alongi, executive producer of NBC News specials. “If you do just the traditional stuff, they'll turn away.”