Every four years, NBC News takes over Rockefeller Center with an “election-themed makeover” during the U.S. presidential election, Steve Veres, NBC News’ director of strategic content, explained at the 2017 INMA World Congress in New York City.
The event features buildings turned red, white, and blue, as well as a national map on the ice skating rink that changes colours depending Electoral College wins. NBC also hosts live events, panels, and streams videos of its election coverage in the plaza.
“It becomes a town hall, basically,” Veres said “In 2016, we were thinking, ‘How can we extend this experience beyond just a day?’ because it’s really expensive to take over a city block in New York City for more than a day. And how do we extend it so it’s not just for people who live in Manhattan … so it’s a true, fully immersive experience. And Virtual Reality was the best way for us to move forward.”
NBC partnered with AltSpaceVR to create Virtual Democracy Plaza: “They built basically a chatroom-like replica of our physical build in Virtual Reality so people from all across the world could join as avatars and chat with one another. And again go into the rink and see the states, the colours changed on election night. We had live streams of the debates there, and we had panels and discussions just like we did in real life.”
In all, 18,000 people visited Virtual Democracy Plaza. On the night of the 2016 U.S. election, NBC saw 52 minutes of average engagement time, “which, for our social videos and 360 videos, is magnitudes better than what we find on Facebook,” Veres said.
That’s what NBC is trying to do: Drive deep engagement with users, Veres said: “And this delivered that in spades.”