Virtual wars (or Leveled up election coverage)

Live from Maguindanao Day 19
4 days after Halalan 2010

SHARIFF AGUAK, MAGUINDANAO–When they monitored how the 2007 polls were covered, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility wrote: “For their efforts alone, the three TV stations –ABC 5, ABS-CBN 2, and GMA 7 — took election coverage to a new level. They made the coverage of the 2010 elections something to look forward to.”

And indeed, the TV networks did not disappoint.

In May 2010, they fused hi-tech form and relevant substance to mark the first time many Filipinos used machines to count their votes.

It’s not just the much ballyhooed “Star Wars”-like effects that have captured viewers and reignited debates among Kapamilya and Kapuso fans. More notable was the increased focus on context, issues, voter education, and citizen empowerment.

After all, the 2010 polls have been called a crossroads in Philippine politics, held at the twilight of a long and controversial presidency, with the youngest, more socially conscious, and most technologically-connected populace participating.

Tech coups

Viewers on election day raved about the ABS-CBN Halalan war room suggestive of NASA. GMA 7, like ABS, boasted heavy partnerships and widespread deployments, and a revitalized channel, TV5, showed how it could compete with the two.

Sets of Halalan, Eleksyon and Pagbabago 2010

Unlike the cellphone-ruled 2001 and 2007 elections, 2010 was the first one dominated by online social media.

Tips, complaints, jokes, and comments on Twitter and Facebook filled airtime. ABS-CBN led the surge with its multi-platform “Boto Mo Ipatrol Mo” campaign.

Plus, the networks gave audiences a visual treat.

Each had touch screens showing everything from candidate profiles to citizen journalists’ reports to 3D diagrams of the election process and results.

The coup was augmented reality. The term refers to blending realistic computer-generated images with news presentation, thus “augmenting” the viewing experience–not unlike movie special effects.

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Halalan anchors literally walked through moving visuals of survey results and provincial vote tallies. Announcers faced 3D maps and dissolving screens of field reporters and, even more, full-body images of the reporters themselves!

Hologram debate

Our reporter here, Jorge Carino, became the first “beamed” to the Halalan studio via “virtual presence.”

And after GMA host Howie Severino, Eleksyon soon had correspondents and interviewees in live points appear “via hologram.”

The technologies, from two companies, are practically explainable. It’s akin to cropping one image to make it appear part of another.

They differ though, starting with the effects desired. ORAD’s virtual presence on ABS-CBN tried to preserve the reporter’s real image by smoothing out the background.

GMA 7 and their tech provider Vizrt did a sci-fi look, cleaning up the reporter’s background through a green screen, then using a program to digitize the appearance.

Ted Failon interviews Jorge Carino from Maguindanao via virtual presence technologyJiggy Manicad in front of green screen in Maguindanao

Virtual presence, however, syncs the graphics with the camera, allowing it to zoom into both the anchors and the images.

While the images are popularly called holograms, others soon pointed out that the effects dubbed as such were not technically holograms–considering the elaborate process taken to make a true-blue one.

The exchange of reports, tweets, and explanations sparked among viewers and the two stations capped with GMA 7 appending the word “effect” just to end the confusion.

More than show

It’s all for show, some say. But if there’s any time the media affect full force or innovation, the elections are it.

Call them the Super Bowls or Pacquiao fights of television news.

In fact, that much-discussed chroma key, a staple in weather reports and TV production, arrived in the Philippines via another election. ABS-CBN first used the blue screen to simulate studio-remote interaction in Halalan ’69.

Maybe it was the novelty of CNN’s “hologram” in the 2008 U.S. elections that prompted this current trend.

But more so, the media did not want the significance of this historic vote lost on its audience.

ABS-CBN News head Maria Ressa says they want to make viewers see the news anew: “75 percent of what they remember is going to be the video they see. And if it’s presented to them in a way that piques their interest, they’ll remember it.”

TJ Manotoc reviews tweets using Halalan 2010's 103 inch touchscreenThe ABS-CBN Halalan 2010 War Room

And beyond the disputed effects, the networks paved the way to election day with a yearlong slew of campaigns and public affairs shows attempting to make sense of the candidates and the new voting process. Daily election stories did not fail to add in context.

This season also saw the rise of election forums, hot-seat interviews, and televised debates that engaged many viewers.

And the viewers engaged back. ABS-CBN’s Harapan managed to get candidates talking about pressing issues despite the heated air. Its feedback mechanisms, from the pioneering Wireless Audience Response System to text messages, generated online buzz.

Likewise, the empowering message of slogans like “Ako ang Simula” motivated voters to take part in possible change.

Sure, there have been dark spots in the coverage. But in the end, the viewer/voter won from an improved Halalan 2010.

And I was part of it.

ABS-CBN's Eugenio Lopez Jr. building in augmented reality

Screenshots courtesy of ABS-CBN, GMA 7 and TV5.

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3 comments on “Virtual wars (or Leveled up election coverage)

  1. Pingback: Halalan 2013: Media lessons from the US elections | PinoyJourn: Stories behind the Stories

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