European networks cover U.S. election

Historic contest draws global audience

Europeans have no say over whether John McCain or Barack Obama lands the big prize, but the U.S. contest is being regarded as an historic event on this side of the Atlantic.

Networks are investing big to cover a political race given even more traction by the global economic crisis.

The BBC is flying out a staff of 125 to join its 50 already in the U.S. Rival broadcast orgs including Sky News, ITV News and London-based CNN Intl. are also determined to give auds their own take on the lead-in to Election Day and the results.

“The level of interest in the U.S. presidential election in Europe is massive,” says Nick Wrenn, managing editor, CNN Intl. “It’s outstripping anything comparable I’ve experienced before.”

Wrenn reports record traffic on CNN Intl.’s election webcasts. “The appetite from viewers for this contest is enormous. They chastise us when we cut away from the story.”

American elections always attract interest abroad, but international broadcasters say the personalities involved have heightened interest this time around.

“The candidates are much more charismatic than they were in 2004,” Wrenn says. “Sarah Palin represents ideals that are quite alien to many Europeans, but she has helped bring the story to life.

“You’ve also got a Vietnam vet and potentially the first black president. There’s a real sense that history is in the making.”

In addition, many Europeans have been swept up by Obamamania. The presidential candidate is celebrated on T-shirts and in concerts, art galleries and even fashion shows.

Not since John F. Kennedy visited West Berlin has a U.S. politician excited the German masses like Obama; 5 million people watched his July speech in Berlin on TV, 200,000 in person.

Pubcaster ZDF plans to showcase the election throughout the week on its regular news programs, magazine shows, special reports plus online.

“Worldwide, there are the highest expectations for the presidential elections in the U.S., especially in Germany,” says the web’s news topper, Nikolaus Brender. “That’s why ZDF is shifting its main news program to the U.S. and will broadcast a number of special programs live on the results of the election.”

On Election Day (Nov. 4), ZDF will broadcast its main primetime news show, “Heute-Journal,” live from Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch’s London-based Sky News, available across Europe, aims to inform auds how “real Americans” are reading the election.

Instead of concentrating its coverage in the capital, Sky has moved south to swing-state Florida, where it has set up shop in what it reckons is a re-creation of the White House in a Miami villa.

The residence has been fitted with 14 cameras and will play host to some 150 guests, including ordinary voters, who will have their say alongside political and economic pundits.

Sky has chartered a 54-foot yacht, aboard which floating voters can do just that.

“I’ve been covering U.S. elections for the past eight years, and during that time, we’ve never had a race that’s as interesting as this one,” says Sky News’ executive editor Chris Birkett.

“We thought it was important to move our coverage away from the Beltway and take the White House to real Americans. That way we could be distinctive and reflect the excitement of this election.”

Even Spain, which is more laid back than other European countries on the U.S. elections, has seen coverage that “is far, far higher than in previous faceoffs,” says Eduardo Garcia Montilla, prexy of audience research combo Corporacion Multimedia.

All the major Spanish networks will be sending special teams to cover Election Night.

Broadcaster Sexta will dispatch Mamen Mendizabal and Helena Resano, its two main news anchors, to Democratic and Republican HQs in Chicago and Phoenix.

“Right back from the Iraq war, Socialists have felt implicated in U.S. politics and are gunning for Obama,” Montilla says.

Ed Meza in Berlin, Elsa Keslassy in Paris and John Hopewell in Madrid contributed to this report.

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