We are working hard to ensure the US Election will be as hard to avoid as a dull and rainy New Year's Eve, so you may as well join us and watch it. Even better, stay up all night and go crazy with cookies and hot chocolate in your own election party, but make sure you research some US Presidential Trivia to annoy your friends and family.
The web site on election night should feel more dynamic than it has ever done before, thanks to a host of Flash, AJAX and JSON features updating results, tickers and maps in real time. You can see an example of how the homepage will look on the night below. It has all been put together by an extensive team too numerous to list here, but you know who you are.
Over on the Editors Blog, Steve Herrmann has outlined some of the features we will have running for the US election. In particular you may be wondering how the new "single" results system works and how the BBC calls the results as it gets them.
Firstly, all the BBC Election results are driven off the Election Production System (EPS, right) being operated in Washington by the staff on the BBC Washington Results Desk along with the Interactive team running the EPS and other systems in Washington and the UK. This is the first time a single coordinated system has driven all outputs TV, Internet, Radio, etc... and it ensures that all outputs get the same information form the same source.
I've worked in the studio on election nights and the combination of adrenaline, coffee, fear of results or graphics not working and sheer exhaustion after 12 hours in a studio overnight mean it's one of the most satisfying and stressful experiences you can go through. In particular I remember being terrorised by a Floor Manager with an angry outlook on life as I kept trying to get in front of the cameras "by mistake". Anyway back to this century.
First I would recommend a review of how the BBC views elections US style. It's pretty straightforward, but there are a few surprises about how the US Electoral College works and especially how the BBC results are validated because some of the early results you will see are predictions rather than results.
OK - so you've read the background info and frankly now you know as much as me about how elections work in the US.
As results are gathered by the BBC from Associated Press and other sources, the Results Desk will use the EPS input client to view the data and make a call about the result for any state. This client is more complicated than ones we have used before and allows viewing, editing and declaring of results. The Results Desk can also use the client to send messages and prepare for results coming in, sharing their insider information with journalists across the BBC. This service (called Newswire) is a crucial part of the intelligence and reporting on the night. Everyone working on the output will be monitoring it.
What does the results desk look like? It's a forest of screens with some human beings scattered between them looking busy and stressed. A bit like a bunch of frenzied stockbrokers (below).
Take particular note of the screen in the middle with the horizontal stripes on. This is the Presenter and Producer Dashboard and is one of the elements at the heart of our coverage. As results are entered and information is shared by the Results Desk, the producers and presenters around the BBC will watch this screen to receive this information.
Once the results desk decide to publish results, then a number of things happen. The TV output generates a graphic with the results or predictions published. The results on the web update, including the maps and tickers across the site showing latest results and information. Data and calculations are made so that the TV high end graphics can analyse the results - when you see David Dimbleby and Jeremy Vine playing with their graphics, the data has all come through the EPS.
Gareth Owen who developed the Results system and is running it on the night:
This is the first time the BBC has come together to manage election results output centrally, with state-by-state winners declared directly into our system's desktop client by the team in Washington, live raw vote figures coming into our system from the AP in New York, and fast, bespoke output produced for every single BBC outlet via our systems in London"
And when we say every platform we really mean it, including TV, Radio, the web, Mobile services, Interactive TV and even Ceefax (right). World Service sites in different languages and Arabic TV are also all working off the same results. The typo has never had so much potential for speedy multi-platform evil.
On the night we are hoping to cater for engagement at many levels. From simple scoreboards and tickers on the Homepage and across the BBC News site, through to detailed analysis on interactive services and TV / Radio.
An interesting development is further enhancing our live multi-stream player which was used for the Olympics. Through this, you will be able to engage with a BBC "Stream Of Consciousness" as events unfold. Multiple AV streams, results data, journalistic comment and anything else of interest will be squeezed into a vibrant page updating dynamically. You can send us comments and tell us your predictions through this as well.
The live experience around AV is something we are exploring more and more, and I hope the combination of outputs will give you all the access you desire to information about this important event.
See you on the other side...
John O'Donovan is Chief Technical Architect, FM&T Journalism.