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How to pull off a virtual convention

Perhaps the most complex event in the history of livestreaming?

How to pull off a virtual convention
Image: Ian Ransley, Nicholas Frawley and Protocol

On Monday night, as the first ever virtual Democratic National Convention kicked off on a screen near you, Democrats began their attempt to pull off an unprecedented act of political showmanship. It required, they said, perhaps the most complex event in the history of livestreaming.

Democrats will host 11 hours of programming between Monday and Thursday of this week, including hundreds of different video feeds. Some of it will be live, some prerecorded. It'll be on multiple channels, set-top boxes, even Spotify and Alexa.

  • Merging hundreds of remote video streams over a multi-day period is a production challenge unlike anything television has seen before, said Andrew Binns, chief operating officer of the Democratic National Convention Committee.
  • "No one has ever done what we are going to do here," Binns said. "All of those remotes coming into a live broadcast in real-time and being sent out for four nights is an amazing feat that hasn't happened yet."

Then, there's the official party business — you know, like voting on a nominee and a platform — that the DNCC also had to figure out how to handle remotely. Throughout the month of July, the platform committee met on Zoom and broadcast their meetings on YouTube. In early August, delegates received individualized ballots by email, which they were to fill out and return to their state Democratic Party last week.

Meanwhile, outside of the party apparatus, tech giants are on the lookout for new threats and disinformation campaigns that could coincide with the convention.

  • On a call with reporters last week, Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher said that the conventions were a big topic of conversation when tech companies recently met with government officials to discuss election security.
  • "Critical civic moments like that can often be a magnet for an operation," Gleicher said. "And in a time like this where the conventions are going to be different than they've ever been because they will be online, we need to think about does that change our posture?"
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