Shailesh Kapoor | Live Election Results: A Reality Show Like No Other

06 Dec,2013

By Shailesh Kapoor


In more than 30 years of active television viewing, no content has fascinated and captivated me more than live election results coverage. It’s the biggest reality show ever, unfolding in real time, with aftermath that can last for years, if not decades. One such reality show will play out this Sunday. And then there will be an even bigger one some time in the summer of 2014.


In the good old Doordarshan days, General Election results were four-day long affairs, interspersed by Manoj Kumar films. When the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) were introduced in 1999, it meant that four days of excitement would crash into about four hours. Initially, I detested the EVMs for doing this to me. But over time, I have grown to love this new rapid-fire, T20 format of election results.


Election results coverage is now all about thinking on your feet. As new data flows into the system in real time, it is impossible to rehearse this coverage out. From shifting between politicians and experts on one hand and between various states on the other, the anchor of such a show can find his plate too full for his own liking. Hosting live election coverage has to be the most challenging camera-facing job on TV today. The post-analysis leading upto government formation, which may last anything from one day to upto two weeks, is the more familiar news part, albeit nail-biting at times.


Much as I enjoy it immensely, I have two pet peeves related to live election coverage that I hope are addressed soon. The first one is about the use of technology. There is just too much focus on portraying the technology as the hero of the coverage. Many channels run promos of their election results shows highlighting how their touchscreen-based technology or their graphics software are the best in the business.


I fail to see the point. Good technology, unless it is a technology program we are talking of, should always be invisible. It is meant to seamlessly enhance the viewing experience, than become the star in the room. Live sports do it so well. Perhaps, they get more practice. And with so much talk about ‘high-end’ technology in live results coverage, if you still can’t ensure basics like your cameramen are not visible all over the show, you haven’t done your technical rehearsals right!


My second pet peeve is more psephology-led in nature. With 63 years of elections history behind us, out of which about two decades have involved active use of computers, one would have expected news brands to have created some concrete metrics and indices to capture insights in a more structure and predictive form. This has not happened, and as a result, rarely are learnings from past elections used to analyze current results, except an odd anecdotal comment by an expert, which is often biased to lead to a pre-decided conclusion in his mind anyway.


Psephology is a science before it’s an art. Yet, it unfolds on our television more like the latter, with wordsmithery being its primary form of execution, instead of any robust data-led indicators. In fact, such indicators, and not technology, can become true differentiators of a news channel’s election results coverage.


But these are only minor irritants in what is the most enthralling television content for me. Come Sunday, and I shall be all eyes and ears from 7 am onwards.


Shailesh Kapoor is founder and CEO of media insights firm Ormax Media. He spent nine years in the television industry before turning entrepreneur. The views expressed here are his own. He can be reached at his Twitter handle @shaileshkapoor


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