By Helen Coster, Reuters
U.S. television news networks are preparing for an election night like no other, as a divided nation chooses the next president amid a global pandemic, with more voters casting their ballots early and by mail than ever before.
In this year’s contest between Republican U.S. President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat, TV networks are facing heightened pressure to report election results accurately and without unwarranted speculation.
Among the challenges facing the nation – and the networks – are a president stoking fears of ballot fraud, a deeply divided electorate and the specter of a prolonged vote count, which raises the potential for protests, violence and lawsuits.
This will be the first presidential election in which the major TV networks will get data from different providers, raising the potential for divergent perspectives on election night returns.
Fox Corp’s <FOXA.O> Fox News and the Associated Press are no longer using traditional in-person exit polls, instead relying on online and telephone surveys that aim to reach early and Election Day voters. The news organizations will combine that survey data with real-time results tabulated by the AP to help make projections.
The three broadcast news networks and AT&T <T.N>-owned CNN are part of the National Election Pool consortium, which will rely on the firm Edison Research for exit polls and results as they come in from each precinct. Reuters has a distribution deal with the NEP for 2020 election data.
Networks will be showcasing their investments in more polling, deeper data analysis, and additional reporting on the mechanics of voting, voting integrity and misinformation.
ViacomCBS Inc.-owned <VIACA.O> CBS News will broadcast its Election Night coverage from Times Square for the first time, with primetime coverage beginning at 7:00 p.m. EST. The network will use four high-resolution LED video walls to display real-time data, maps, results and video feeds from around the country.
CNN will begin its coverage at 4:00 p.m. EST on Tuesday, with correspondent John King reporting live from the network’s “Magic Wall,” along with political director David Chalian, who will cover exit polls.
Comcast Corp-owned <CMCSA.O> NBC News’ coverage will begin at 7:00 p.m. EST, lasting until at least 4 a.m., and as long as the race continues. The network will rely on more than 100 NBC News journalists for its coverage. Its “Decision Desk” will make projections when there is 99.5 percent statistical confidence in the result.
Walt Disney Co’s <DIS.N> ABC News will begin its primetime coverage at 7 p.m. EST, with anchor George Stephanopoulos leading coverage from New York.
Fox News is airing an eight-hour-long live special “Fox News Democracy 2020: Election Coverage,” beginning at 6 p.m. EST; additional coverage will continue until 9 a.m.