Web sweeping election coverage

Streaming video, race trackers among offerings on news sites

This year's midterm elections will play out not only in the voting booth and on TV but also on the Web, which will be offering the most coverage ever for an election.

Each of the major networks' Web sites will offer a robust package of features for political junkies that will go well beyond the usual updated results that have been a staple of election coverage on the Web since 1996.

"It's a much bigger deal this time around," said Marty Ryan, executive producer of political coverage at Fox News.

For ABC and CNN, it means a lot of streaming video of original coverage for the Web and live election events for their respective premium digital services CNN Pipeline and ABC News Now. Other network sites also will offer streaming video, customizable election trackers and other video- and data-intensive applications that are a combination of what they learned worked in 2004 as well as other things that they have developed since.

MSNBC.com will offer two live video streams, one detailing election results and the other, called "Hot Switch," that will feature the best live coverage from NBC affiliates nationwide.

"It's all about giving people an immersive and complete experience," MSNBC.com editor in chief Jennifer Sizemore said.

The offerings this year are a leap even from the 2004 election season, the first to feature the perfect storm of blogs, Web-savvy campaigns and increasing broadband penetration.

"This is a watershed year in terms of the way video is going to help online news and information services cover the elections," said Mitch Gelman, senior vp and executive editor at CNN.com. "The increase of high-speed access has been extraordinary just since the last election." MSNBC.com's Sizemore estimated that 90% of her site's audience is broadband-enabled.

"It opens all kinds of opportunities to use video in creative ways and create interactive experiences where people can add their own content," Sizemore said.

At ABC News Now, that means a ramping up of the "Be Seen and Be Heard" citizens journalism initiative that started during the 2004 campaign. Executive producer Michael Clemente said that the last three days before the election — and Tuesday and Wednesday — ABC News Now will enable a national conversation that will be splashed all across the digital news channel as well as ABCNews.com and in some cases even on the TV network.

"People are comfortable with the technology, we're comfortable with the technology, and we think we're leaders in letting people share their thoughts about candidates and issues," Clemente said. "Prior to some of this, there was really no efficient way for their thoughts to count beyond the voting."

CNN will offer a customized tracker for users to follow as many as 20 races nationwide in Tuesday's election, which will feature 435 House races along with a number of Senate and gubernatorial elections. Plus there's map- and ZIP code-based and customization, said Jennifer Pangyanszki, senior producer of special reports at CNN.com.

Sizemore said that for all the sites, the midterms are practice for the 2008 presidential election.

"The audience then will be even bigger," she said. "This election gives us the chance to find out what people will really react to, what they want, and then we will make sure that we build on it for the next time."