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TV News Outlets Drew Battle Lines Election Night

By Stewart Stogel   |   Wednesday, 05 Nov 2008 11:47 AM

The major TV networks went to war in New York City Tuesday night in their ever-increasing efforts to capture viewers, both at home and in the street.

Midtown Manhattan was the staging area for many of the troops, with all the major cable news outlets providing public viewing areas to watch (and party) as voting results came in.

ABC News joined those outlets with its decision to take the news channels head-on with continuous election coverage starting at 7 p.m.

A tour of the media camps unveiled some of their battle plans.

First stop, MSNBC/NBC News’ Election Plaza at Rockefeller Center. This was the second time the chiefs at 30 Rock have used the world-famous skating rink at Rockefellar Plaza as an ad-hoc studio for Brian Williams and Tom Brokaw.

As many as 10,000 people crammed into the plaza, police estimated. To highlight the broadcast, the Peacock Network created two massive banners — one red, signifying John McCain, and the other, blue, for Barack Obama — each covering a side of the 70-story 30 Rockefeller Plaza skyscraper.

As electoral votes accumulated, each banner crept up the front of the building toward a finish line labeled 270, the number needed to secure the presidency. As Obama numbers rose, the crowd oohed and applauded. Silence greeted McCain victories.

Nearby on Sixth Avenue, the home of the Fox News Channel, the sidewalk election studio of the No. 1 cable news outlet drew only a few hundred passersby who seemed to stop more out of curiosity than politics.

A viewing stand for VIPs sat mostly empty in the dark.

Martha McCallum, who anchored the street studio, spent most of the time delivering an election post mortem, though it was only 8:30 in the evening.

Next up: Times Square, where the battle lines were drawn between CNN, ABC News, and the upstart Fox Business.

CNN commandeered Duffy Square, a small plaza in the heart of Times Square. Public viewing stands and a live studio drew almost 2,000 visitors, police said. The crowd seemed to be mostly Obama supporters.

Just down the road, ABC News transformed the Good Morning America studio into ABC News Election Center. Though there was no street-level live studio, ABC did take over almost every video screen for two blocks. That drew several thousand viewers, some of whom pushed onto the streets, playing havoc with taxis and buses trying to navigate through the crowds.

One move ABC may live to regret was resurrecting Sam Donaldson to anchor its Internet and digital cable TV coverage. Several times, Donaldson was caught muttering over an open mike that it "looks bad for McCain" and that the Arizona senator "can't possibly win." That was only one and a half hours after the first polls closed.

A block away, Fox Business broadcast from the NASDAQ market site. Anchor Alexis Glick and some unidentified guests stood in front of the massive NASDAQ video wall trying to analyze foreign financial markets reaction as the election results rolled in.

The Fox Business setup drew few takers.

The only network left in the cold was CBS. The Tiffany Network was literally missing in action.

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