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All eyes on the United States

Philip Stevens looks at how European broadcasters have elected to cover Biden vs Trump.

November’s US presidential election is bound to attract significant interest from viewers around the world. With so much happening globally at this time, the occupant of the White House for the next four years will be under enormous scrutiny both home and abroad. 

However, does Covid-19 mean that coverage by broadcasters will be different from previous US elections? With that in mind what do broadcasters have in place for the 3rd November event?

For its UK audiences, ITN is producing programmes for ITV News, the ITV News website, Channel 4 News and 5News to cover the election period. This will include the special overnight programme to be shown on ITV on election night. 

Tom Bradby will lead ITV News coverage from Washington.

“This programme, called Trump vs Biden, The Results will begin after the regional news at around 10.50pm and end at 6am on 4th November when Good Morning Britain will begin,” explains Michael Herrod, ITV News’ head of foreign news. “Our presentation will come from Washington DC, with Tom Bradby as the lead presenter.”

Channel 4 News’ coverage will be hosted in Washington by Matt Frei, and in London by Jon Snow and Krishnan Gurumurthy. The 5News presentation will be led by political editor Andy Bell and correspondent Julian Druker

Herrod continues, “This year’s election has been much harder to plan due to the travel restrictions surrounding Covid-19. Nevertheless, we are sending a team similar in size to four years ago now that we have an ability to get to the US. Our plans call for six reporters in the United States, alongside eight ENG crews.”

Lucy O’Brien head of field operations at ITN adds, “The crews are using a mix of LiveU and Aviwest for their coverage. The special programme for ITV will be using Aviwest HE4000 unit. This unit is being used to bring the cameras back from DC so they can be cut in the gallery in Grays Inn Road.  We are using NTT encode/decoders for the return vision paths.” 

Each separate reporting team will have a camera operator who will shoot and edit, and have LiveU kit for live injects. 

O’Brien says that in addition to using its own crews, ITN has the potential for using coverage from US broadcasters, including Associated Press for the 5News programmes.

Robert Moore, ITV News Washington correspondent says that covering a US presidential campaign is one of the great privileges of working for ITV News. “You witness the spectacular made-for-TV theatre of American politics, you criss-cross the Mid-West listening to voters, you learn that there isn’t one electorate, or two partisan sides, but 150 million voters all with their different issues, concerns and priorities.”

ITN’s recently appointed chief technology officer, Mo Akhlaq, says that being able to report and have an ‘on the scene’ presence has been an extremely important tool in the news broadcaster’s arsenal. “It is a vital tool allowing the audience to connect with the story or live event. Field teams are well equipped for dealing with hostile environments from war zones, protests and election coverages. Covid has added another challenging dimension, social distance. We have now introduced working practices which help to maintain social distancing and a Covid-safe work space wherever they may be. Working in bubbles, PPE (where needed) and using IP technology to acquire and delivery material in a speedy and safe manner.”

BBC’s broadcast plans

For the BBC, Katty Kay and Andrew Neil will present the overnight BBC US Election 2020 from Washington and London. 

“Our programmes will be shown on BBC1, BBC World and the News Channel,” says programme editor, Sam Woodhouse. “Elsewhere, the BBC Persian and Arabic services will have their own progammes.”

Katty Kay will be the BBC’s presenter in the US.

“Katty will be broadcasting from our Washington bureau where we will originate a multicamera programme under the control of our bureau director. Andrew will be providing interviews and analysis from our studio in New Broadcasting House.” 

Alongside the studio production, around 10 ENG crews with reporters will be deployed across the US, including at the parties’ headquarters and at key swing states. These will use a mix of LiveU and other mobile equipment, with most of the operators being local hire. Woodhouse says the idea is to have as few people as possible crossing the Atlantic. “Every broadcaster will surely have looked at their plans and decided how best to handle the current situation surrounding coronavirus.”

He continues, “Having said that, I don’t believe we have scaled back the operation because of coronavirus. We will still get the sense of how America is thinking by talking to the people in swing states. But the places we talk to people will change. You won’t find us talking to Americans in crowded bars – because there aren’t many crowded bars!”

“Jon Sopel and Clive Myrie will be with the Trump and Biden campaigns on election night, with BBC reporters including Emily Maitlis and Nick Bryant in the crucial battleground states. We will have the services of a panel of expert political strategists assessing how the night is unfolding, how the campaign was lost and the impact the US electorate’s decision will have on the years ahead.”

The programme will also include big-screen graphic analysis from Christian Fraser based in London.

Audiences will also be able to follow all the action on the BBC News website’s dedicated US Election live page for all the latest updates in the run up to the election, on results day itself and after. There will also be live maps tracking results for the presidential, Senate and House of Representatives races.

The following morning will see Laura Trevelyan taking over in Washington, and Matthew Amroliwala and Reeta Chakrabarti in London. Katty Kay and Christian Fraser will be providing further analysis at 8pm GMT.

Andrew Neil says, “This has been a presidential campaign like no other in the long history of America’s democracy. And not just because it’s being fought in the midst of a pandemic. In many ways it’s turned into a referendum on Donald Trump. Do you want to continue with four more years of the Trump rollercoaster? Or would you prefer a return to something approaching normal with mainstream Democrat Joe Biden? That’s the choice Americans must make on 3rd November.”

BBC head of newsgathering Jonathan Munro adds, “The US Presidential election is one of the world’s most important political events, and always has a big impact on politics across the world. Our goal is to make sure that we provide our audiences with the complete picture. On election night, Katty and Andrew will bring an incredible level of experience, knowledge and authority from both sides of the Atlantic.”

Sky’s schedule

“Our whole TV schedule will be dominated by the US election across the week,” states Chris Howard, Sky News’ editor, news output. “At its heart will be the special results programme America Decides overnight on Tuesday into Wednesday. All our key strands will be presented from Washington including Kay Burley, All Out Politics, The NewsHour, Sky News Tonight and Sky News at Ten. This output starts at 10pm on Sunday through until the end of Thursday 5 November.”

To handle that comprehensive output, a temporary studio that will accommodate four or five cameras has been constructed overlooking the White House, and forms the main set for the week, and the location for America Decides. That studio will produce a cut feed that will come as a live inject into the main gallery at Sky’s Osterley production centre.

Sky News will use Augmented Reality during its broadcasts.

Dermot Murnaghan will present the results show, along with other strands throughout the week. He will be joined in the US by Kay Burley, Gillian Joseph and Adam Boulton. As well as the studio presentation, Sky News will deploy teams, delivering input from all the key areas, and coverage of all the crucial topics. 

Howard continues, “We have four ENG crews resident in the US, and will be sending another five to bolster our coverage. They will use LiveU for transmission and a mixture of equipment, full broadcast cameras and DSLRs.”

With so many key personnel in the US, has Howard had to make special plans bearing in mind the Covid-19 restrictions?Yes. It’s made it more complex to organise than ever. It’s been hard to get teams into the US from the UK. We’ve put in place a wide range of safeguards and practical measures to make sure they and anyone they come into contact with stays safe and healthy. We had to design the studio differently, we’ve had to come up with alternative ways of presenting the output – and we’ve always had to have backup plans running in parallel in case the situation suddenly changed.”

VizRT will be used for Sky News’ graphics, will an Augmented Reality render of the White House will form part of the results set in West London. This was designed in Unreal, with VizRT as a gateway to the tracking data. 

“In addition to having full access to all the live results data coming in from across the States in real time, we will also be showing the National Exit Poll. That will for a large component of the results programme – and will be presented by our Economics Editor Ed Conway in a specially-built studio at Sky’s HQ in West London. On election night former aide to Donald Trump, Omorosa, will be in the studio with Dermot Murnaghan and our US correspondent Cordelia Lynch, and we will also be joined through the night by the former UK ambassador to the US Lord Darroch.” 

The German take

The English language channel of Germany’s international broadcaster DW is planning to offer nine hours or more of rolling TV coverage in English from 1am on Wednesday until at least 10am (Central European Time). Deutsche Welle will also report about the elections on its other linear channels in German, Spanish and Arabic as well as all 30 broadcasting languages online and on social media.

“Of course, we will have extensive coverage before and after election day, depending on the developments in the US,” explains Silvia Schütt, deputy head of news programmes. “The TV coverage will also be streamed live on our YouTube channel. As always, our programmes will be aimed at an international audience.”

She goes on to say that Covid-19 has meant a change in DW’s plans to cover the election. “Unfortunately, coronavirus has had an impact on who could travel to the US to support our Washington studio. And, of course, we have limited the number of people allowed into our newsroom and the studios.”

The arrangements mean that the Berlin studio will have three teams of two anchors each for the election night and the morning after transmissions. Beyond those in the studios, the channel is planning to utilise eight international correspondents, providing coverage for several language services and all media channels. Three ENG crews will be based in Washington DC, using a mixture of their own cameras and equipment from LiveU. However, additional staff will be dispatched to other venues as and if required. In addition, live feeds will be taken from US broadcasters and news agencies.

“We also anticipate having live shots with reporters in front of US embassy in Berlin on the day after the election,” says Schütt.

The news studio in Berlin will be using an ORAD graphics system to display the results as they come in from America.

“DW aims to deliver rapid results updates and sharp analysis on the events unfolding around the elections in the US. At the same time our focus is really on what it all means for the rest of the world, for Europe and for Germany,” states Schütt

The view from France

France 24 is planning a non-stop programme from midnight on 3rd November to 12pm, Paris time, the following day. “This will be 12 hours of live TV entirely dedicated to this momentous event,” states Gallagher Fenwick, head of France 24 English. “We will have live shots from the US at the top of every hour and every half hour.”

Although most of the programming will be anchored from France, the channel will present its flagship show The Debate from Washington DC. This will involve using Associated Press resources in an outdoor three-camera studio. 

“Across our programming, we will have a mix of up and coming junior and more seasoned presenters anchoring the bulletins and special slots.”

Alongside the presenters, France 24 will deploy around 20 reporters across the country. 

Eve Irvine will be one of France 24’s presenters.

Denis Delmas, deputy chief technical officer at France 24 says that the reporters will be accompanied by ENG crews.

“In DC, Miami and Philadelphia there will be LiveU LU600 and Aviwest DMNG Pro 380 units. In New York City, Phoenix and Los Angeles we will utilise an Aviwest App. Alongside our own coverage, we will be using agency feeds.”

He goes on to say that Avid Maestro will provide the graphics that display polling results. “We have selected a service provider, Luxiris, who will deliver all the turnkey graphics for our television broadcasts, websites and social networks.”

Fenwick says the broadcaster’s editorial plan is, by far, the most ambitious operation undertaken in 2020. “Our ability to quickly modify our plans and send crews on the ground demonstrates our agility in the face of the many challenges that the current circumstances pose.”

He adds, “Covid-19 has forced us to reconsider our plans several times over the past few months. It has also driven us to go much further into contingency planning. Whatever happens on the ground with regards to crews and equipment we are ready to jump from one scenario to another if need be. The level of volatility is far higher than ever before. This adds tension and stress, but also pushes us to go into detail in the planning of this event and to develop our agility, our flexibility as a news organisation.”

The providers

As reported, LiveU is contributing much to election coverage. Malcolm Garland, managing director, Garland Partners, LiveU’s UK partner reports that it is seeing the highest interest ever in a US election. “Virtually all of our main broadcast customers have already taken action in terms of purchasing or leasing additional LiveU units – and the LU-Smart smartphone app – over and above what they already have. They want to increase their coverage capacity in the US.” 

LiveU kit will be used including smartphone production kits using LU-Smart.

He says that one major broadcaster, based in the UK but with operations in the US, already has multiple LiveU units. However, to cope with the interest in the election it will utilise an additional eight, and will be mobilising other units from its global fleet to join them. 

Garland says that if a European broadcaster wants to cover the election with a satellite truck in the US, then it may need a team of people travelling from the UK or France or Germany – or elsewhere – and then deal with all the current travel complications. “With a LiveU unit, you can send that with a reporter and off you go. You can achieve the coverage you want with a one- or two-person team. That is a huge advantage at the resource, travel and currently the welfare and health level.”

In terms of broadcasters with a base in the US, it’s a mix of LiveU working directly with both their American and European teams. “The demands vary greatly. We can deliver units very quickly that work across all of the four major US cellular networks, providing units and data. It’s a completely turnkey solution with the units added to customers’ LiveU inventory so they are ready to be used immediately.”

Garland goes on, “Particularly in the US, we also see that LiveU Matrix has become the go-to tool for the newsroom for many key customers and this will prove invaluable during the election. it facilitates sharing of high-quality, low-latency live feeds with multiple internal and cross-organisational end points. Users can set up new pools and destinations in less than an hour.” 

He adds, “During this terrible pandemic, one of the key things that has stood out is the massive increase in the use of both the LU-Smart smartphone app and also Solo, LiveU’s direct-to-online streaming unit. Solos are being used by companies of all different shapes and sizes. With LU-Smart, it’s often the case that this is the most efficient way of operating for broadcasters and production companies given all that’s happening. It also enables a contributor to be brought into a studio remotely with a single click on a link using Guest Interview mode.”


For those international broadcasters who either won’t be able to cover the event locally or may elect not to travel because of the risks involved, TVU Networks has offered a complete solution for live, on-site reporting that doesn’t require the presence of an organisation’s own reporter or crew. 

TVU Networks has offered a complete solution for live, on-site reporting.

According to Kap Shin, head of global services at TVU, the package includes remote camera crews at various U.S. locations, equipment, transmission and pool feeds. “We will provide exclusive live feeds from Washington, DC and other major US cities as part of the service throughout the election process. Recipients receive full election coverage until a winner is formally declared.”

“Broadcasters will be able to produce their own unique elections stories safely with the on-location camera crews included in the package,” explains Shin. “A full slate of TVU solutions are available including TVU Partyline, a broadcast-quality video conferencing platform, that enables reporters at receiving broadcaster’s facilities to engage live with remote voters and guests on-site. For remote interviews when only a smart phone is available, the TVU Anywhere mobile app can be utilised to stream full HD live video from anywhere and can be used in combination with TVU Partyline. TVU Search which will allow editorial and production staff to find and clip live and archived content faster and easier for story creation.”