We have all had so many virtual, digital experiences over the last six months since the Covid pandemic began to spread. For some people it was birthdays and weddings. For others it was conference meetings and seminars. For many it was school at one level or another. But there have also been many one-off events – normally big, in-person spectaculars. One great example is the political nominating conventions every four years, right up there (but nowhere near the ratings) with the Olympics, Presidential Inaugurations and other happy and sad events of mass appeal.
Right now the Democrats are having their first virtual, digital Convention, and many of the mainstream politicians probably will hanker to go back to the crowded stadiums and convention halls
of past conventions, with speeches only the home audience could hear because the noise from the convention floor rumbled in the background.
The pre-Covid conventions had the exciting (read this sarcastically) on-the-spot, man-in-the street interviews on the convention floor with roving correspondents in search of intrigue, gossip and breaking news. It was just boring TV with limited production quality, and a bunch of “talking heads.”
The ratings for the political conventions has been spotty over the years. The networks continue to reduce their live coverage of what used to be “gavel to gavel” broadcasts, but the many digital platforms have more than made up for it. Different numbers will be reported over the next few days in terms of TV viewers of the Democratic Convention, as well as the many digital viewers, but it seems that the total number of Americans tuning into this digital convention, across all platforms and outlets, was substantial, almost 50 million Americans. Undoubtedly some people used more than one platform to view the convention at different times throughout the night.
How will consumers feel about this new, digital, distributed approach to a convention that is highly produced, with hundreds of real folks in their real homes watching, applauding and chiming in about their man for President? We have been subjected to long, boring, droning preambles by the leader of each State’s delegates when they cast their votes for the “next President of the United
States,” ever since the first TV broadcast of a national political nominating convention in 1940. But now each State’s delegates appear remotely in some beautiful, special, or dramatic “made for TV” setting and concisely herald their soon to be nominee, as they cast their votes.
This new style convention, this virtual , digital convention seems to me to be “better TV” than the old
live broadcast of a stuffy gathering of white men, smoking cigars, and making side deals to nominate the next President. The smoke-filled rooms were real and the press, be it print, TV or digital, has covered the intrigue and inside maneuvering of each political party and their leaders with the sort of detail that only an army of reporters could produce.
But the intrigue is rare, if not entirely nonexistent in the modern, traditional convention today. The nominating rules of both major political parties rarely result in a “brokered” convention (a nicer way of saying the end result of horse-trading), because the Presidential nominee has entered the convention with a clear majority every single time since 1980 and many times before then. So perhaps the old style convention is dead, not just because of Covid, but because it was boring TV and in the end just a long, poorly produced advertisement for the candidate of each party.
Today’s virtual convention is also an advertisement for the candidate of choice, but it is more than that. The Democratic Digital Convention is also good TV. The live speeches were well produced, perfectly delivered, and you could hear them without the roar of a raucous crowd not paying attention to the speaker.
Many conventions have presented produced video stories of 5-10 minutes to push their candidate, often used in order to introduce the candidates or their spouses. But to me something more authentic, a bit more “from the home and the heart” came across in the digitally streamed speeches (practiced untold times no doubt) from various meaningful locales, like Dr. Jill Biden delivering a speech from one of her old classrooms from her days as a teacher in Delaware. It may not have made you cry, but it felt more real to me than the crowded, awkward hand-holding and waving of candidates and their wives from the podium of a large, noisy convention hall.
I also thought the many “zoomed-in” appearances of regular people (not the delegates who are often political hacks, junkies and activists who I doubt the average American feels much in common with) were fun and brought home the national nature of a political nominating convention, perhaps more so than seeing all the States’ placards in a central convention hall. Here, in this digital convention, we had hundreds of Americans waving and applauding, almost as if they were sitting next to me, or at least in the apartment down the hall. I wrote about this “bring in the people” production technique when it was used in the NFL Digital Draft back in April. In both cases it made these “reality TV shows” more real.
For almost 90 years political conventions have heralded their nominees’ acceptance speeches with a huge ballon drop (when they work) showering everyone with red, white and blue balloons. The balloon drop started in 1932and I am sure for many old-timers it won’t be the same when the emoji style balloons of every color, shape and size come floating across the viewers’ TV, phone or computer screens. But for many others it will make us feel right at home – just like we were on Facebook or TikTok.
The national political conventions this year are social media styled, reality TV shows brought to you by Covid. Coming August 24 we can see how the Republicans produce their digital, virtual convention and we will see what kind of digital drama will be presented by the leaders of the Republican party and the incumbent President of the United States. It could be very interesting. Both the party and their nominee know a little bit about TV (again read sarcasm).
The leaders of these campaigns know that this year the TV production is going to be different and they both want to nail a great show. “We are producing a digital convention, and people are watching,” T.J. Ducklo of USA Today, tweeted.