Buckets of voters. Obscure swing counties. How John King, Steve Kornacki and Bill Hemmer bring the data to life with their whiz-bang “boards.” Pioneered by CNN a decade ago, the screens have also made stars of their human minders, the anchors who blend wonk-level knowledge with tap-and-swipe dexterity. Fleet fingers, and a mind for numbers, are essential.
The ratings firm said Wednesday that 36.1 million people watched midterm election results on TV, a whopping 59% increase over the last midterms in 2014. For the last midterm election during Barack Obama’s presidency, an estimated 22.7 million people watched the counting. Nielsen said it was the largest midterm election audience dating back to 2002. Fox News Channel led the way with 7.78 million viewers.
In an aggressive call on a night when many television networks played it safe, Fox News was the first major news organization to project that the Democrats would retake control of the House of Representatives, dealing a blow to the channel’s most famous viewer, President Trump.
For the first time, almost every major news organization will be providing live video coverage of the elections.
There’s one thing the highly competitive broadcast news anchors and producers responsible for covering the midterm elections can agree on: the stakes almost couldn’t be higher, both for politicians and the television networks that cover them. “These are the events that define a news division,” says Marc Burstein, ABC News senior executive producer. “It is the Super Bowl of our business.”
Television networks and other news organizations recognize that many people will follow the results on TV with a pad or smartphone in hand, or eschew television altogether. They’re competing aggressively to provide immersive digital experiences, particularly for people impatient to know how the news affects them personally.