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Networks Bank on Big Election Night With Outdoor Broadcasts

Over the past two decades, election coverage on the major television networks has gradually moved from the newsroom to street-side studios and open-air stages. This year proves to be a culmination of sorts, with ABC, Fox News, and NBC all making a big push to incorporate the streets and people of New York into their national broadcasts.

ABC News takes over Good Morning America’s Times Square headquarters this evening, with reporters stationed outside, interacting with the public. In addition to using its own marquee screen above the studio, the network rented electronic signs from Reuters, Nasdaq, and the Hard Rock Cafe to broadcast live feeds of its coverage.

This marks the most elaborate election-night effort from ABC thus far, and ABC News executive producer of specials Marc Burstein said he got the idea this summer when a crowd gathered the day Barack Obama clinched the Democratic nomination. “There was an enormous crowd that was looking up and watching our coverage without any promotion, without any advance notice,” he told The Hollywood Reporter last week.

Times Square doesn’t belong to ABC though. Fox News rented its own Jumbotron for the night on the opposing side of the intersection. The cable network also plans to have live coverage from its street-level studio on the Avenue of the Americas. Life-size mockups of Fox anchors will be positioned outside so passersby can pose for photos (or, given the left-leaning locale, possibly deface the mockups).

Just a few blocks away at NBC's Rockefeller Center headquarters, the network set up “Election Plaza.” The dramatic build out from the 2004 race—including an original copy of the Declaration of Independence, a replica of the Oval Office, and other political exhibitions—won't return. Instead, the network plans to attract viewers at home and in Midtown Manhattan with an interactive map of the country, broadcast onto the skating rink, that colors states red or blue as polls close. In addition, candidate barometers on the facade of 30 Rockefeller will climb as electoral votes are gained. Large TV screens showing live coverage from NBC and MSNBC will also be on display.

The only major broadcast presence sticking to business as usual is CBS News. Lead anchor Katie Couric will hold down the fort at the network's studio for the duration of its coverage.