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NBC News Has Ambitious Streaming Plans For Election Night

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William B. Plowman/NBC

Chuck Todd and Kristen Welker hope to learn a few things by anchoring an Election Night special in a year when there really isn’t supposed to be a special Election Night.

Voters won’t decide on November 2 who wins the White House or whether Republicans or Democrats gain control of Congress, but Welker and Todd will lead coverage that evening which could prove to be a harbinger for programming to come: a two-hour streaming show, “Meet The Press: Election Night Special,” on NBC News Now that will examine the ins and outs of important gubernatorial, state-level and local mayoral elections.

“We are doing an Election Night for people that really care about Election Night, that really care about why this person is winning, what’s going on here,” says Todd, in an interview.

He acknowledges NBC would likely not televise a quieter cycle like this on primetime broadcast (MSNBC will kick off election coverage featuring Steve Kornacki, among others, at 4 p.m. on Election Night), but sees no reason why the NBCUniversal-backed news division can’t bring all its resources to bear for a streaming effort that will attract a devoted group of viewers.

“I do think we can be ‘niche-ier,’ if you will, with an experience that we can really wonk out on,” he adds. NBC plans to use what it learns on November 2 to help plan similar NBC News Now specials built around important primaries that take place in months to come, all part of the run-up to critical midterm elections in 2022.

NBCU is testing concepts for streaming coverage as the competition for broadband news aficionados is about to get more intense. CNN, the WarnerMedia news operation that vies most closely with NBCUniversal in terms of overall resources, is slated to launch CNN Plus, a subscription-video product that is expected to offer programs led by Poppy Harlow, marketing professor Scott Galloway, and Washington journalist Kasie Hunt — who, until recently, worked for NBC News.

Other services may work up new programs with popular anchors.  But NBC News Now is a place where the news division can hone the most important news of the day, says Noah Oppenheim, president of NBC News. “This is the best of NBC News. It’s not second-tier in any way,” he adds. And the service  has been rolling out coverage and programming since 2019.

People who tune in to the NBC News Now special may find themselves witnessing an election cycle that will prove pivotal, says Welker, in an interview. “This is a significant Election Night that we are about to cover. This night will tell us a lot of what we can potentially expect to see, or what threads we are going to follow as we get into the midterms, which are critical for both parties,” she says, “This Election Night is going to set the stage for that. The stakes are very high.”

The two-hour special, which streams between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m., is expected to focus heavily on the Virginia gubernatorial election between former governor and Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe and Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin, which is seen as a bellwether for how the midterms may unfold. But the show will also examine the New Jersey gubernatorial race between Democratic incumbent Phil Murphy and Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli, local mayoral races in New York City, Boston and Minneapolis, and even a contentious school board elections in Southlake, Texas, where NBC News has been covering battles around cultural issues.

Andrea Mitchell and Joshua Johnson will join Todd and Welker, along with other NBC News journalists.

MSNBC’s streaming-video counterpart, “The Choice,” found on Peacock, will also offer Election Night programming. Zerlina Maxwell will anchor starting at 6 p.m, followed by “The Mehdi Hasan Show,” which will last from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Just as Disney’s ESPN has begun to “multi-cast” bespoke versions of sports events that are tailored for different audiences, news divisions may want to do the same, suggests Todd. “I do think that this is the future,” he says.